Alliance for Justice Releases Documentary Film Calling for Reform of Supreme Court Ethics Rules
Press ContactKevin Fry email@example.com
Washington, D.C., October 24, 2011—With increased scrutiny focused on ethically dubious activities undertaken by some justices of the Supreme Court, Alliance for Justice today released A Question of Integrity: Politics, Ethics, and the Supreme Court, a 15-minute documentary film created to foster public debate about judicial ethics and to serve as the centerpiece of a campaign for reform.
Narrated by actor and activist Edward James Olmos, A Question of Integrity presents evidence that in recent years some Supreme Court justices have attended overtly political gatherings, inappropriately lent their names to private fundraising events, maintained financial and personal relationships with individuals and institutions that create the appearance of impropriety, and failed to disclose financial information as required by federal law. The result has been a crisis of credibility for the Court and a growing chorus for institutional reforms to clarify the ethical obligations of justices and to enhance transparency and accountability when potential conflicts of interest arise.
In releasing the film, Alliance for Justice President Nan Aron said, “Like many Americans, we have become increasingly dismayed by the seeming indifference of some Supreme Court justices to the basic ethics rules that govern the federal judiciary. We fear that the reputation of the Court has been put at risk by the careless and politicized actions of some of the justices. But this film was not produced just to shed light on past behavior. More importantly, we are building the case for permanent ethics reform at this critical time in our nation’s history. ”
A Question of Integrity explains that the justices of the Supreme Court are not formally bound by the Code of Conduct that guides the behavior all other federal judges. It also examines the fact that when a justice is confronted with a potential conflict of interest that might require that he or she step aside from a case, the decision rests solely in the hands of the justice with the potential conflict, with no opportunity for appeal. While these weaknesses in the ethics rules for the Court have long been known, the current spate of questionable behavior has spurred urgent calls to formally apply the Code of Conduct to the Court, reform the recusal process, and enforce the Ethics in Government Act.
Among the incidents described in the film are the appearances by Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia at political strategy conferences hosted by billionaire businessmen and conservative activists Charles and David Koch, and keynote speeches by Justice Samuel Alito at fundraising dinners. Both participation in political activity and speaking at fundraising events are explicitly prohibited by the Code of Conduct that applies to all federal judges except the nine justices of the Supreme Court.
Accompanying the release of A Question of Integrity is a national action campaign urging the Court to voluntarily, but formally, adopt the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges and to pledge to adhere to its precepts in their entirety. A public petition calling for the Court to immediately adopt the Code is located online.
In announcing the campaign for change that accompanies the film, Aron said, “The judicial Code of Conduct exists to protect the honor and independence of the federal courts and to preserve the public’s faith that judges act fairly and without personal agendas. Unfortunately, the fact that the Code doesn’t formally apply to the Supreme Court has led to the untenable situation we face today where justices engage in behaviors that would be completely unacceptable for any other federal judge. We believe A Question of Integrity will foster a national conversation about judicial ethics and can play a constructive role in advancing reforms that can help end the questions of integrity currently hanging over several justices and the Court itself.”
Experts featured in the film include Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor at Slate, Professor Steven Gillers of New York University School of Law, Professor Sherrilyn Ifill of the University of Maryland School of Law, and Los Angeles Times reporters, Tom Hamburger and David Savage.
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A Question of Integrity is the latest in the series of First Monday films and campaigns produced by Alliance for Justice since 1996. It may be viewed online at www.aquestionofintegrity.org, or on YouTube or Vimeo.
Extensive background materials on Supreme Court ethics rules, current controversies, and the history of the federal Code of Conduct are available for download at www.aquestionofintegrity.org.
Summary backgrounders in PDF form are available for download:
Information about how to host screenings of the film and instructions for ordering free copies of the A Question of Integrity DVD are also available at www.aquestionofintegrity.org.
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Alliance for Justice is a national association of more than 100 organizations, representing a broad array of groups committed to progressive values and the creation of an equitable, just, and free society. AFJ works to ensure that the federal judiciary advances core constitutional values, preserves human rights and unfettered access to the courts, and adheres to the even-handed administration of justice for all Americans. It is the leading expert on the legal framework for nonprofit advocacy efforts, providing definitive information, resources, and technical assistance that encourages organizations and their funding partners to fully exercise.