in His Annual State of the Judiciary Report
Washington, D.C., December 22, 2011—Alliance for Justice President Nan Aron today issued the following open letter to Chief Justice John Roberts in advance of the release of his annual Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary:
Dear Mr. Chief Justice:
With the time fast approaching for your annual Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary, I am writing on behalf of Alliance for Justice to respectfully urge you to take advantage of this important opportunity to address questions that have arisen about the ethical standards governing the Supreme Court. We, among many others, are growing increasingly concerned that the recent decline in public approval of the Court is due in part not only to the well-publicized and ethically questionable actions of some justices, but also to the lack of clear and unequivocal precepts governing justices’ behavior.
As you know, all other federal jurists are subject to the Code of Conduct for United States Judges, yet the Supreme Court, our nation’s most important legal institution, is currently exempt. We understand that several justices and Court spokespeople have made public statements that the Code is used as guidance and that justices voluntarily follow its rules, but the recent record demonstrates that either that is not true for all justices or there is a lack of understanding of what the Code requires. For example, Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas recently attended a fundraising dinner at which they were the honored guests and main speakers, and allowed their names and images to be used to publicize the event. All of these activities are prohibited by Canon 4C of the Code, which states that “a judge should not personally participate in fund-raising activities,” and which goes on to specify in commentary that a judge “may not be a speaker, a guest of honor, or featured on the program” of a fundraiser.
Incidents like this one demonstrate the need for clarity and certainty about the ethical standards which bind the Court. The nation can ill-afford to allow ethical uncertainties to cloud public perceptions of the Court, its justices, and, the decisions they make. The simplest, most direct approach is for the Court itself to make an explicit public declaration that the Code of Conduct governs justices’ behavior and to formally adopt it as the Court’s own rule.
We urge you to take the occasion of your 2011 Year-End Report to restate the Court’s obligation to maintain the highest ethical standards and to make a commitment to beginning the process of finally and officially adopting the Code of Conduct.
President, Alliance for Justice
Alliance for Justice has prepared a background report on the Federalist Society fundraising dinner of November 10, 2011, at which Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas were the guests of honor, and which has the hallmarks of an activity that is prohibited by the Code of Conduct for United States Judges. It is available online at: www.afj.org/FederalistFundraiser.
In addition, extensive background materials on Supreme Court ethics rules and current controversies are available for download at www.aquestionofintegrity.org. The issue is also discussed in AFJ’s new short documentary film, A Question of Integrity: Politics, Ethics, and the Supreme Court, which can be viewed online.