Supreme Court ethics bill introduced

The Blog of LegalTimes yesterday wrote that “As promised a month ago, a group of Democratic members of Congress have reintroduced a bill to require U.S. Supreme Court justices to follow the same ethical rules as other federal judges, spawned by some of the same criticisms of Republican-appointed justices that have been batted around for years.”

The National Law Journal detailed the same criticisms of Supreme Court justices two years ago in the light of when they should recuse from certain cases.,” the article reported, with "the upshot being the justices decide whether or not to bow out individually, with no requirement to explain, no resort to other justices or the full court, and no precedent to guide them.”

Now there's legislation in the works.

Nan Aaron, President of Alliance for Justice, was quoted in Representative Louise Slaughter’s press release as saying, "Every single federal judge in America is subject to a code of conduct—with the glaring exception of the nine justices of the United States Supreme Court. Supreme Court justices should be able to resist the temptation to lend the prestige of their office to partisan political causes, or fraternize with and fundraise on behalf of those who could have a financial stake in Court decisions. Unfortunately, some of the justices sitting on the Supreme Court today have been unable to resist that temptation. That's why we need a code of conduct for the Supreme Court—and why we wholeheartedly support this legislation."

"We are a nation defined by the rule of law, and our government is defined by our comprehensive system of checks and balances,” Slaughter said. “Recent reports of dubious ethical behavior by Supreme Court justices have undermined these two fundamental principles, and have eroded the American people's faith in the Supreme Court as an institution. In order to restore the people's trust, the Supreme Court needs to adopt a Code of Conduct –just as every other federal judge is required by law. As the highest court in the land and the ultimate arbiter of justice in America, the integrity of our justices should be beyond reproach, and this law will ensure that we hold true to the standards on which this country was founded,"

Slaughter, who championed similar legislation last Congress and whose record of holding government accountable includes the landmark "America For Sale" report on government corruption from 2000-2006 and passing the STOCK Act in 2012, which banned insider trading by members of Congress.

Naturally, there’s even more. The ABA Journal asks the interesting question as to whether Congress impose ethics rules on the US Supreme Court, and in its article notes “It isn't clear, however, how the standards would be enforced, if they were adopted, and a post on Josh Blackman's Blog questions how the legislative branch can constitutionally regulate the conduct of the judiciary.”

That article also notes that “In his 2011 end-of-year report, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who has declined to voluntarily adopt the Code of Conduct for United States Judges, set forth his apparent position, that blog notes:

"The Code of Conduct, by its express terms, applies only to lower federal court judges," Roberts wrote. "That reflects a fundamental difference between the Supreme Court and the other federal courts. Article III of the Constitution creates only one court, the Supreme Court of the United States, but it empowers Congress to establish additional lower federal courts that the Framers knew the country would need. Congress instituted the Judicial Conference for the benefit of the courts it had created. Because the Judicial Conference is an instrument for the management of the lower federal courts, its committees have no mandate to prescribe rules or standards for any other body."

Text of Supreme Court Ethics Act of 2013