Supreme Court Adopts First Code of Ethics, But Lacks Means of Enforcement

Supreme Court Adopts First Code of Ethics, But Lacks Means of Enforcement

The Supreme Court adopted its first code of ethics Monday after several justices faced criticism for undisclosed trips and gifts from wealthy benefactors.

The policy, agreed to by all nine justices, does not appear to impose any significant new requirements and leaves compliance entirely to each justice.

“The absence of a Code, however, has led in recent years to the misunderstanding that the Justices of this Court, unlike all other jurists in this country, regard themselves as unrestricted by any ethics rules,” the justices wrote in an unsigned statement that accompanied the code. “To dispel this misunderstanding, we are issuing this Code, which largely represents a codification of principles that we have long regarded as governing our conduct.”

The ethical conduct in question focused on gifts and opportunities given to Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Samuel Alito, and Sonia Sotomayor.

A ProPublica investigation found a Republican billionaire has paid for luxury vacations for Associate Justice Clarence Thomas over the last two decades. The same man also bought real estate from Thomas in Georgia. Neither was disclosed, CBN News reported.

Politico reported that Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch didn’t disclose a property he sold to the head of a law firm with multiple cases before the court. 

Democrats had called the events ethical violations and wanted legislation passed to hold justices accountable. 

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They have voiced that the current code of ethics is not enough. 

“This is a long-overdue step by the justices, but a code of ethics is not binding unless there is a mechanism to investigate possible violations and enforce the rules. The honor system has not worked for members of the Roberts Court,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

Whitehouse proposed a court ethics code that cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee without any Republican support and would allow for complaints and investigation by lower-court judges.

Justices Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh, and Elena Kagan have voiced support for an ethics code in recent months. 

Meanwhile, in May, Chief Justice John Roberts said there was more the court could do to “adhere to the highest ethical standards,” without providing any specific details.


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