Supreme Court Announces Unenforceable Code of Ethics

Kevin Wurm/Reuters
Kevin Wurm/Reuters

The U.S. Supreme Court announced on Monday that it would adopt its first ethics code after Clarence Thomas was widely criticized for accepting undisclosed gifts from conservative donors like Harlan Crow and the Koch brothers. In a statement, the justices wrote, “The absence of a Code… has led in recent years to the misunderstanding that the Justices of this Court, unlike all other jurists in the country, regard themselves as unrestricted by any ethics rules.” “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,” they continued. But the code doesn’t add any major requirements or have enforcement measures, leaving compliance to each justice’s discretion. One critic said it “reads a lot more like a friendly suggestion than a binding, enforceable guideline.” An ethics code was previously pushed by Democrats, but all 10 Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted against the proposal. In addition to the Thomas controversy, there have also been reports about Samuel Alito accepting a flight on billionaire Paul Singer’s private plane and Sonia Sotomayor urging universities to buy her books when she visited them.

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