Eleven National Groups Call on the Supreme Court to Reform its Ethics Rules and Formally Adopt the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges

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  • Dale Eisman

Eleven National Groups Call on the Supreme Court to Reform its Ethics Rules and Formally Adopt the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges

Washington, D.C., January 9, 2012- With long-standing ethics controversies swirling around the Supreme Court, a coalition of 11 national organizations has sent a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts urging the Court to formally and explicitly apply to itself the Code of Conduct for U. S. Judges. Currently, the Code, which spells out both general and specific rules of conduct for federal judges, does not apply to the Supreme Court.

Recent ethically questionable behavior by some justices has led to a crisis of confidence in the integrity of the Court and a growing public outcry for institutional reform. “It is time for the same rules that guide district and circuit court of appeals judges to apply to Supreme Court justices,” the letter asserts. With “the integrity of our judicial system at stake,” the groups call on the Court to “take it upon itself to agree to be bound by the Code,” and “do so unequivocally and publicly.”

The organizations signing the letter include Alliance for Justice, Center for Media and Democracy, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Common Cause, Communications Workers of America, CREDO Action, Equal Justice Society, League of United Latin American Citizens, National Employment Lawyers Association, People for the American Way Foundation, and U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

Alliance for Justice President Nan Aron explained AFJ’s decision to sign the letter, saying that, “With so much at stake at the Supreme Court this year, the justices can no longer avoid the need to make an unequivocal, final, and formal commitment to the highest possible ethical standards. With the Court’s reputation at risk, one important step the Court can take to restore public confidence is to voluntarily and explicitly bind itself to the Code of Conduct.”

“The court should stand for justice and fundamental fairness. But how can it do that to the fullest measure when it doesn’t impose and enforce its own standards of conduct?” said Lisa Maatz, director of public policy and government relations at the American Association of University Women (AAUW). “In these regrettably partisan times, and in the absence of such standards, the Supreme Court risks losing the confidence of the people.”

Lisa Graves, Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy, added that, “No justice on the Supreme Court is above the law. Our highest court should adhere to only the highest standards and commit publicly to acting beyond reproach. We ask the Senate to hold hearings examining the activities of Justices Thomas, Scalia, and Alito that appear to violate the ethical norms for judicial officers. It simply cannot be the case that the judges given lifetime jobs as the final word in cases affecting our constitutional rights are not obligated to act ethically. This is not just a crisis of confidence in the U.S. Supreme Court’s fairness. It is an ethical crisis for justices to behave the way they have.”

“Sadly, the justices’ answer to every suggestion that they adopt the Code of Conduct is a list of reasons why they can’t,” said Bob Edgar, president and CEO of Common Cause. “In fact, all the ‘problems’ the Court sees in applying the Code to its work can be overcome easily. It’s time for our highest court to meet the highest standards.”

“When Supreme Court justices are attending fundraisers and strategy sessions for conservative political groups, it’s not enough for Chief Justice Roberts to respond to the completely legitimate concern this raises by essentially saying, ‘Trust us,'” said Becky Bond, Political Director of CREDO Action. “It’s a travesty that at the Supreme Court of the United States judicial ethics has been transformed from a badge of honor to an oxymoron.”

Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way explained that, “The nation’s highest court shouldn’t have the lowest ethical standards. Applying the Code of Conduct to the Supreme Court is a common sense move that will help ensure that Americans can count on basic fairness throughout our judicial system.”