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HALF MEASURE: Supreme Court announces ethics rules, but neglects enforcement provision

HALF MEASURE: Supreme Court announces ethics rules, but neglects enforcement provision

Supreme Court

After being criticized as being unaccountable for the multiple scandals involving Supreme Court justices, the Supreme Court issued a formal code of ethics today.

The panel argues that most of the ethics rules they released on Monday “are not new” but are just now being codified to “dispel… misunderstanding.”

Over recent years increased scrutiny has been visited upon Supreme Court Justices, and not only on the two newest appointees to the bench who were accused of allegations of sexual misconduct (Justice Brett Kavanaugh) and involvement in a religious cult that has been reported to the FBI for sexual abuse and coverups (Justice Amy Coney Barrett).

The additional concerns center around a series of income streams and lavish gifts, including vacations, that Justice Clarence Thomas failed to report.

They also include allegations that Justice Thomas and Justice Samuel Alito failed to recuse themselves from cases with conflicts of interest, and questions surrounding a law firm’s purchase of property from Donald Trump’s first appointee to the bench, Justice Neil Gorsuch.

All this led to a Senate panel concluding that a code of ethics must be implemented at the Supreme Court, which could have resulted in a lot of legal kerfuffles in coming years over whether or not Congress has the power to impose such rules.

Instead, the Supreme Court has released a public statement with their own code, and assures the public it has always been in place.

It includes the basics: a Jusice should comply with law; not allow outside entities (including family members) to influence their decisions; and should not be a member of any group that engages in discriminatory practices.

A Justice, the code says, is obligated to recuse from “a proceeding in which the Justice’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned,” including when “the Justice’s spouse…has a financial interest…or any other interest that could be affected substantially by the outcome of the proceeding.”

Note here that Justice Thomas’ wife, Ginni Thomas, was involved with groups connected to the January 6th attack, and he has been criticized specifically for not recusing himself from the cases she has connections to.

The code directly addresses the issue of accepting gifts. It reads:

“A Justice should comply with the restrictions on acceptance of gifts and the prohibition on solicitation of gifts set forth in the Judicial Conference Regulations on Gifts now in effect. A Justice should endeavor to prevent any member of the Justice’s family residing in the household from soliciting or accepting a gift except to the extent that a Justice would be permitted to do so by the Judicial Conference Gift Regulations”

It also restricts Justices from political activity, including speaking at events sponsored by a party or candidate.

However, one thing is noticeably absent from the document, which is signed by all nine current Justices: any enforcement mechanism.

The full SCOTUS document can be read here.

Stephanie Bazzle
Steph Bazzle is a news writer who covers politics and theocracy, always aiming for a world free from extremism and authoritarianism. Follow Steph on Twitter @imjustasteph. Sign up for all of her stories to be delivered to your inbox here:

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