Ethics and The Supreme Court

Submitted By Lawrence Rafferty, (rafflaw) Guest Blogger


Professor Turley has recently discussed the ethical problems raised by Supreme Court Justices Scalia and Thomas by their attendance and participation in fund raisers for conservative groups.  In addition, Justice Thomas’ wife has also come under criticism for working for a lobbying group that benefitted from the Citizen United decision.  With all of the potential conflicts of interest that these Supreme Court Justices are involved in, it looks like someone is finally attempting to rein in the Justices and make them subject to the Judicial Conference’s Code of Conduct which all other Federal Judges have to adhere to.

Representative Chris Murphy of Connecticut has authored a bill to end the conflict of interests that some Supreme Court Justices refuse to recuse themselves from.  “Murphy’s bill will:

  • apply the Judicial Conference’s Code of Conduct, which applies to all other federal judges, to Supreme Court justices.  This would allow the public to access more timely and detailed information when an outside group wants to have a justice participate in a conference, such as the funders of the conference;
  • require the justices to simply publicly disclose their reasoning behind a recusal when they withdraw from a case;
  • require the Court to develop a process for parties to a case before the Court to request a decision from the Court, or a panel of the Court, regarding the potential conflict of interest of a particular Justice.”

If this bill was successful in passing through the Republican controlled House and Democratic controlled Senate, which would be a tough assignment; the Supreme Court Justices would be breaking the law if they continued to attend and participate in political fund raisers.  Canon 5 of The Judicial Conference’s Code of Ethics precludes a judge from being involved in any political activity.

The first question that I would have is how would this law, if passed, actually be enforced against any  Justice?  Would this legislation make it easier to impeach a justice who refuses to live up to the ethics requirements laid out in the Judicial Conference’s Code of Ethics?   Can a Justice and his or her vote be removed from a decision if they are found to be in violation of the ethical rules after the decision is rendered? 

Maybe the question that really should be asked first is whether there is even a need for this legislation?  All of these are questions that need to be answered, but the subject legislation has to make it through the House and Senate first and that is one tall order.  How do you see it?

Sources:  Think ProgressJudicial Conference Code of Ethics; Congressman Chris Murphy.

Respectfully submitted by Lawrence Rafferty, (rafflaw), Guest Blogger

39 thoughts on “Ethics and The Supreme Court”

  1. It is beautiful watching a sleeping nation.

    It does not matter what legislation is passed, for, once it gets to SCOTUS, any law can be interpreted to mean anything SCOTUS declares it to mean.

    Consider, as illustration that abortion law seemingly proposed by Georgia State Representative Bobby Franklin.

    ‘Prenatal murder’ means intentional removal of a fetus from a woman with an intention other than to produce a live birth or to remove a dead fetus; provided however, that if a physician makes a medically justified effort to save both the lives of the mother and the fetus and the fetus does not survive, such action shall not be prenatal murder. Such term does not include an naturally occurring expulsion of a fetus known medically as a “spontaneous abortion’ and popularly as a ‘miscarriage’ so long as there is no human involvement in the causation of such event. (italics added –jbh)

    How is a “spontaneous abortion” or “miscarriage’ of a human fetus possible without causal involvement of the human fetus and/or its human mother?

    The law is become law unto itself?

    Brian is not laughing.

  2. Lotta,
    Great link!
    AY, I think most of the Justices have ethics, but there continue to be some that abuse the lifetime appointment.

  3. Not to sound contrite….But I am….

    Are there any?
    Are there any Ethic’s on the Sct anymore…..The last two that I felt had any real ethics are Brennan and Marshall….

  4. A better outcome in this one, the cash for kids scandal wherein Judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr sentenced kids to privately owned jails for kickbacks. Originally this judge and another judge were given a plea deal by Federal prosecutors, 7 years for a guilty plea.

    The judge overseeing the case vacated Ciavarella’s deal because Ciavarella showed no remorse and still proclaimed innocence. The Feds then tried him on racketeering charges and he was found guilty. He could get as much as 115 years but will probably be sentenced to around 15 from what I have read. He is out on an unsecured bond until sentencing last I read. That isn’t a good decision IMO, too much motive to flee.

    Why is it not a shock that this is what happens when you privatize a public function and turn it into a lucrative business opportunity?

    “Jury finds judge guilty in kids for cash case

    …In all, prosecutors have brought charges against nearly 30 officials, including a third county judge, numerous court officials, a state senator, school board members, and county officials. On Wednesday, a federal appeals court made public an opinion revealing that former State Sen. Robert Mellow (D., Lackawanna) is being investigated for “federal-program theft, extortion, fraud and money laundering.” ”

  5. raff:

    You must have seen me reading this comment LOL!!

    “Lingo Linden February 16, 2011 at 9:47PM

    Experience? What kind of experience made the Judge break the law? Is he dumb? Can he be both experienced AND dumb? His type of experience is a liability.

    What kind of message does the council’s vote send? What a mess!

    Councilman Peter Brown. I voted for you. I don’t understand.”

  6. raff:

    Christie is our governor,a play on words here”What were they thinking by electing this guy?”

    So I guess it carry over to our municipalities and how they think.

  7. Buddha,

    I’ll take that wager and agree…. But they cannot be trusted to police themselves….Maybe the President should not call them in the First Monday of October…. for a while….

  8. rafflaw,

    I have no idea what the teabaggers will or will not support until Rush and Glenn tell me. So far I don’t think they’ve passed out instructions on this bill.

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