Supreme Court’s Toothless New Code of Ethics Solves Nothing
WASHINGTON, D.C., November 13, 2023 – The Supreme Court surprisingly announced Monday that it was establishing a “Code of Conduct for Justices” for the first time in the institution’s history. The Court has long operated without any such code, even as the lower federal courts are bound by such a code adopted by the Judicial Conference in 1973. As historic as the new code is for existing at all, it will do nothing to solve the current ethics crisis at the Court.
Notably, the new code of conduct has absolutely no enforcement mechanism. There is no indication as to what could happen to a justice who violates it. This toothless approach makes the code largely symbolic and thus it will not increase accountability among the justices.
Moreover, the code appears to be carefully constructed to circumvent and excuse all of the current ethics concerns plaguing the court. Nothing in the code, for example, would be bothered by Justice Thomas accepting lavish gifts and vacations from a wealthy conservative donor with obvious interests before the Court. Similarly, the code of conduct sees nothing wrong with Justice Alito’s rosy relationship with a lawyer arguing before the Court this very term.
Alliance for Justice President Rakim H.D. Brooks issued the following statement:
“If the Supreme Court’s code of conduct doesn’t, in effect, require Justice Thomas’s immediate resignation, it is worthless. Thomas has committed egregious and repeated violations of the law, and that much should be clear in a code of conduct. In addition, a code should have enforcement mechanisms that help restore the public’s faith in the Court. This code does neither.
“We need a code that effectively prevents the wealthy and powerful from having undue influence on the Court. Congress must continue its work until we have one.”