US Supreme Court Releases Ethics Rule for Justices amid Criticism

UNITED STATES: The U.S. Supreme Court has unveiled its first-ever code of conduct to govern the ethical behavior of its nine justices, responding to external pressures following revelations of undisclosed lavish trips and close ties with wealthy supporters.

The code has received mixed feedback, with some critics noting a perceived lack of an enforcement system.

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This development follows media scrutiny into ethical concerns involving certain Supreme Court members, particularly conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, while Senate Democrats attempted legislation—though unlikely—to mandate an ethics code for the country’s highest judicial institution.

The nine-page code outlines justices’ obligations to prevent external relationships from influencing official decisions or actions.

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It specifies constraints on involvement in fundraising, reiterates boundaries on gift acceptance, and advises against using staff or court resources extensively for extracurricular activities.

The accompanying commentary delves into specific provisions, emphasizing that when justices consider speaking engagements, they should “consider whether doing so would create an appearance of impropriety in the minds of reasonable members of the public.”

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Unlike other federal judges, the life-tenured justices of the Supreme Court historically operated without an official code of conduct.

In a statement accompanying the code, the court noted that some had assumed judges “regard themselves as unrestricted by any ethics rules” due to their absence.

The court, facing months of disclosures about justices’ concealed travel, luxurious holidays, real estate transactions, and other matters, issued the code to dispel misunderstandings about their conduct.

Senator Dick Durbin, the Democratic-led Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, called the code a “step in the right direction” but left open the possibility of further legislative action if it fails to meet “the ethical standards that other federal judges are held to.”

Carrie Severino, head of the conservative Judicial Crisis Network, doubted the code would satisfy Senate Democrats, claiming their true motivation is to intimidate a court they detest “for being faithful to the Constitution.”

The ethics issue added pressure to a court already under strain from public scrutiny of its significant decisions during the previous two terms.

The court, with a 6-3 conservative majority, rejected affirmative action in college admissions, revoked the constitutional right to abortion, and expanded gun rights.

Legal ethics experts noted the code’s responsiveness to public demand but highlighted flaws, such as the court allowing justices to determine their recusal from a case, raising concerns about being the sole determiner of their own biases.

Charles Geyh, a legal ethics expert at Indiana University, questioned whether this is a one-off response or the start of a more meaningful effort by the court to embrace the code on a deeper level.

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