SCOTUS Adopts Ethics Code After Pressure From Senate

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The Supreme Court unveiled a new “Code of Conduct” on Monday, consisting of five canons, as an effort to succinctly articulate the ethics rules guiding the conduct of its members. The announcement emphasized that these principles, while not new, were codified to dispel the misunderstanding that the Justices regarded themselves as unrestricted by any ethics rules. The absence of a formal Code had led to such misconceptions, and the Court sought to address this by issuing a comprehensive set of guidelines.

The Code of Conduct addresses specific concerns that have arisen in recent months, particularly in response to increased scrutiny and calls from Senate Judiciary Democrats advocating for new ethics laws for the high court. The issuance of the Code represents a response to heightened public attention and aims to provide clarity on ethical standards for the Justices.

Two of the canons in the new Code appear to address reports about private trips taken by Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas and the use of Court staff for book promotion by Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Notably, the Code asserts that a Justice should refrain from using judicial chambers, resources, or staff substantially for activities that do not materially support official functions.

Additionally, the Code outlines provisions regarding compensation and reimbursement for permitted activities, with an emphasis on avoiding any appearance of influence on official duties. It further stipulates that expense reimbursement should be confined to the actual or reasonably estimated costs of travel, food, and lodging, maintaining a focus on transparency.

The Code also reaffirms the commitment of the Justices to comply with the statute governing financial disclosure. The announcement acknowledges that the Court has long operated with an equivalent of common law ethics rules, drawn from various sources, including statutory provisions, codes applicable to other federal judiciary members, ethics advisory opinions, and historical practices.

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