Alliance for Justice Joins Law Professors in Calling for Congress to Mandate Ethics Reforms in the Supreme Court
Press ContactKevin Fry firstname.lastname@example.org
Washington, D.C., February 24, 2011—Alliance for Justice today announced its support for common-sense reforms of the ethical rules governing the Supreme Court, as expressed in a letter to the Senate and House judiciary committees signed by 107 ethics professors from 76 law schools around the country.
The letter was spurred by recent media reports of questionable activities of several Supreme Court justices that give the appearance of partisanship, and points out that alone among federal judges, “Justices of the United States Supreme Court have not adopted and are not subject to a comprehensive code of judicial ethics.” The professors call on Congress to apply the Code of Conduct that already governs district court and circuit courts of appeals judges to the nation’s highest court. The Code, among other provisions, prevents federal jurists from participating in partisan political activity, as well as any fundraising event. This issue has become relevant as reports have surfaced that Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas apparently participated in a political strategy and fundraising meeting in 2008 sponsored by the billionaire Koch brothers.
AFJ also endorses recommendations from the law professors for reforms of the recusal process, where currently each justice makes a decision about whether or not he or she has a conflict of interest. Unlike the process for all other federal judges, a justice’s recusal decision is not subject to any appeal or review by peers. The letter calls for Congress to require justices to provide written recusal opinions and to “determine a procedure, or require the Court to do so, that provides for review of a decision by a Supreme Court justice not to recuse himself or herself....”
AFJ President Nan Aron, in calling for congressional hearings to examine the current lack of formal, mandatory ethical standards for the Supreme Court, said, “While justices should feel free to speak their minds and participate openly in events that don’t cross the line into political activity, they shouldn’t be permitted to play by whatever ethical rules they choose for themselves. Recent actions by several justices are creating the perception that they are willing adjuncts to partisan and ideological efforts. Applying the existing federal judicial Code of Conduct to the Supreme Court would go a long way in preventing the kind of uncertainty and controversy caused by Justices Scalia, Thomas, and others, who have stretched ethical boundaries beyond the breaking point.”
Aron went on to praise the simultaneous call for changes in the recusal procedures, pointing out that, “Those who have recently called for Justice Thomas to recuse himself from cases related to healthcare reform due to the lobbying activities of his wife are running into the reality that the only person who will decide if Clarence Thomas has a conflict of interest is Clarence Thomas himself. The recusal process must be changed to include some form of review and public justification in order to ensure public confidence in individual justices and their decisions, particularly in this era of heightened partisanship.”
The letter is available for download here.
Alliance for Justice is a national association of over 100 organizations dedicated to advancing justice and democracy. For more than 30 years, AFJ has led the fight for a more equitable society on behalf of a broad constituency of environmental, consumer, civil and women's rights, children's, senior citizens' and other groups. Alliance for Justice is premised on the belief that all Americans have the right to secure justice in the courts and to have our voices heard when government makes decisions that affect our lives.