Common Cause Urges Congress to Approve Supreme Court Ethics Act

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  • Dale Eisman

Introduction of the Supreme Court Ethics Act of 2013 is a hopeful step toward ensuring that members of our nation’s highest court are held to the highest ethical standards, Common Cause said today.

The legislation would require Supreme Court justices to adopt a code of ethics that includes the five canons of the Code of Conduct that currently apply to all lower courts.

“This legislation shouldn’t be necessary, but the repeated refusal of Chief Justice John Roberts and the rest of the court to adopt rules binding themselves to the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges leaves Congress with little choice but to act,” said Arn Pearson, Common Cause’s vice president for policy and litigation. “We hope it will do so promptly and we commend Rep. Louise Slaughter and Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal for bringing this important bill forward.”

Common Cause has questioned the compliance of Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito with provisions of the Code that warn judges against engaging in fundraising or partisan political activity or hearing cases in which they may have a personal interest. The Code instructs judges to avoid any conduct on or off the bench which might erode public confidence in their impartiality.

Both Scalia and Thomas have been featured guests at political strategy sessions convened by industrialists Charles and David Koch. The closed-door meetings typically attract a mix of conservative business leaders and Republican elected officials.

“The Code and its canons are an ethical guidebook for judges at every other level of the federal judiciary,” Pearson said. “There is no reason why Supreme Court justices should not follow the same rules as every other federal judge. Our nation’s highest court should not have the lowest ethical standards.”

While Roberts and several other justices have written or made public comments indicating that they voluntarily follow the Code and its canons, the court has refused to accept the Code as binding.