Ethics: The Unfinished Business in the Supreme Court’s New Term

It’s the first Monday in October, so the big news outlets and legal blogs were full over the weekend of stories and posts on the opening of the Supreme Court’s 2012-13 term.

We’re told that the court’s docket is dominated by civil rights issues: How much can colleges consider race in deciding which students they’ll admit? Can the federal government deny health benefits to married gay couples? Can the federal government continue to require that states with a history of discriminating against black voters get prior approval before changing their voting laws?

Important questions all, but the justices have one major bit of unfinished business that’s getting almost no attention, and deserves plenty: the court’s own ethics.

The new term begins with the court still refusing to formally adopt for itself the ethical code it enforces at every other level of the federal judiciary. The Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges instructs judges to maintain their independence by acting “without fear or favor.” It tells judges to disqualify themselves from cases in which they or members of their family have a personal interest, to take care to obey laws requiring them to disclose their personal finances and to avoid any involvement in partisan politics, among other things.

Several members of the court have declared publicly that they follow the Code, but they and Chief Justice John Roberts have resisted calls that the court formally adopt it and create a mechanism to enforce it. Each justice is thus left to his or her own decisions about when he or she should be disqualified — recused — from a case, or how openly he or she can be associated with political issues or candidates.

The Roberts court would seem to be in need of the Code’s guidance. Justice Clarence Thomas was embarrassed in 2011 by his repeated failure to properly file annual financial disclosures required by federal law. Thomas and Justice Antonin Scalia are reported to have attended political strategy sessions hosted by industrialists Charles and David Koch; last fall Thomas and Scalia also appeared as guests of honor at an annual fundraising dinner hosted by the Federalist Society, a legal association. The Code tells judges not to take part in such fundraising.

Roberts’ critical vote last summer to uphold the Affordable Care Act, aka “Obamacare,” has been interpreted as at least in part a reflection of his concern that after a series of decisions in which it took positions favorable to Republicans the court was in danger of being viewed by Americans as becoming too political.

I have no idea if those commentaries are on the mark but I respectfully suggest that if the chief is really interested in asserting the court’s independence, he should embrace the Code of Conduct and get his colleagues to adopt it.

As I wrote on this subject early this year: “Our system of government is based on the idea of checks and balances — each branch of government acts as a check on the others. But when it comes to ethics enforcement, there is no one and nothing to check on the Supreme Court. We can do better. We must do better.”


This post also appeared in the Huffington Post

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12 Responses to “Ethics: The Unfinished Business in the Supreme Court’s New Term”

  1. I did a tweet stating that I had written to Justice Roberts asking him to explain why two justices were in attendence at the Koch brothers retreat. The person on twitter went wild and he was retweeting to Ann Romney, speaker of the house and others who would have nothing to do
    with a citizen asking a question the Chief Justice. They do not own the Chief Justice do they? I do a lot of advocacy for the president. I believe the republicans have committed treason. I therefore ask questions ,like
    Why were justices at the retreat, Why did the National Chamber ask CEOs not expand or hire until after 2012? Why did the speaker of the house in PA suppress votes ? He admitted it was so Mitt would win.
    Why the minority leader state that his priority was to prevent OBAMA
    from a 2nd term. Why did CONGRESS OBSTRUCT every piece of legislation presented by the president? Why did the COURT legalize PACs at this time? Mitt promised 12 Million Jobs . How could he do that given this economy especially when he was GOV of MA he was 47th
    in job creation. I also wrote about issues I learned about MItt. TWitter kicked me off and acused me of doing things I do not know how to do.
    I am 66yr old ill female who is trying to support my president with what
    I can. Iwrote to you to see if you could help me find who to contact for
    help. Please help
    me. My name is Ingrid Alston Retired LCSW- C

  2. I did a tweet stating that I had written to Justice Roberts asking him to explain why two justices were in attendence at the Koch brothers retreat. The person on twitter went wild and he was retweeting to Ann Romney, speaker of the house and others who would have nothing to do
    with a citizen asking a question the Chief Justice. They do not own the Chief Justice do they? I do a lot of advocacy for the president. I believe the republicans have committed treason. I therefore ask questions ,like
    Why were justices at the retreat, Why did the National Chamber ask CEOs not expand or hire until after 2012? Why did the speaker of the house in PA suppress votes ? He admitted it was so Mitt would win.
    Why the minority leader state that his priority was to prevent OBAMA
    from a 2nd term. Why did CONGRESS OBSTRUCT every piece of legislation presented by the president? Why did the COURT legalize PACs at this time? Mitt promised 12 Million Jobs . How could he do that given this economy especially when he was GOV of MA he was 47th
    in job creation. I also wrote about issues I learned about MItt. TWitter kicked me off and acused me of doing things I do not know how to do.
    I am 66yr old ill female who is trying to support my president with what
    I can. Iwrote to you to see if you could help me find who to contact for
    help. Please help
    me. My name is Ingrid Alston Retired LCSW- C

  3. I did a tweet stating that I had written to Justice Roberts asking him to explain why two justices were in attendence at the Koch brothers retreat. The person on twitter went wild and he was retweeting to Ann Romney, speaker of the house and others who would have nothing to do
    with a citizen asking a question the Chief Justice. They do not own the Chief Justice do they? I do a lot of advocacy for the president. I believe the republicans have committed treason. I therefore ask questions ,like
    Why were justices at the retreat, Why did the National Chamber ask CEOs not expand or hire until after 2012? Why did the speaker of the house in PA suppress votes ? He admitted it was so Mitt would win.
    Why the minority leader state that his priority was to prevent OBAMA
    from a 2nd term. Why did CONGRESS OBSTRUCT every piece of legislation presented by the president? Why did the COURT legalize PACs at this time? Mitt promised 12 Million Jobs . How could he do that given this economy especially when he was GOV of MA he was 47th
    in job creation. I also wrote about issues I learned about MItt. TWitter kicked me off and acused me of doing things I do not know how to do.
    I am 66yr old ill female who is trying to support my president with what
    I can. Iwrote to you to see if you could help me find who to contact for
    help. Please help
    me. My name is Ingrid Alston Retired LCSW- C

  4. I did a tweet stating that I had written to Justice Roberts asking him to explain why two justices were in attendence at the Koch brothers retreat. The person on twitter went wild and he was retweeting to Ann Romney, speaker of the house and others who would have nothing to do
    with a citizen asking a question the Chief Justice. They do not own the Chief Justice do they? I do a lot of advocacy for the president. I believe the republicans have committed treason. I therefore ask questions ,like
    Why were justices at the retreat, Why did the National Chamber ask CEOs not expand or hire until after 2012? Why did the speaker of the house in PA suppress votes ? He admitted it was so Mitt would win.
    Why the minority leader state that his priority was to prevent OBAMA
    from a 2nd term. Why did CONGRESS OBSTRUCT every piece of legislation presented by the president? Why did the COURT legalize PACs at this time? Mitt promised 12 Million Jobs . How could he do that given this economy especially when he was GOV of MA he was 47th
    in job creation. I also wrote about issues I learned about MItt. TWitter kicked me off and acused me of doing things I do not know how to do.
    I am 66yr old ill female who is trying to support my president with what
    I can. Iwrote to you to see if you could help me find who to contact for
    help. Please help
    me. My name is Ingrid Alston Retired LCSW- C

  5. I did a tweet stating that I had written to Justice Roberts asking him to explain why two justices were in attendence at the Koch brothers retreat. The person on twitter went wild and he was retweeting to Ann Romney, speaker of the house and others who would have nothing to do
    with a citizen asking a question the Chief Justice. They do not own the Chief Justice do they? I do a lot of advocacy for the president. I believe the republicans have committed treason. I therefore ask questions ,like
    Why were justices at the retreat, Why did the National Chamber ask CEOs not expand or hire until after 2012? Why did the speaker of the house in PA suppress votes ? He admitted it was so Mitt would win.
    Why the minority leader state that his priority was to prevent OBAMA
    from a 2nd term. Why did CONGRESS OBSTRUCT every piece of legislation presented by the president? Why did the COURT legalize PACs at this time? Mitt promised 12 Million Jobs . How could he do that given this economy especially when he was GOV of MA he was 47th
    in job creation. I also wrote about issues I learned about MItt. TWitter kicked me off and acused me of doing things I do not know how to do.
    I am 66yr old ill female who is trying to support my president with what
    I can. Iwrote to you to see if you could help me find who to contact for
    help. Please help
    me. My name is Ingrid Alston Retired LCSW- C

  6. Jayme Wilkerson October 25, 2012 at 5:38 am

    First of all I am not an expert at all.

    I am a fellow American that is of the opinion Republican’s are commiting treason to takeover America, through money to buy this election.

    My response to a few of your statements/questions:

    “written to Justice Roberts asking him to explain why two justices were in attendence at the Koch brothers retreat.”
    You are right, they are not supposed to attend or participate in any endorsement for a political party. The retreat you are talking about is: allies pledge $100 million at private meeting to beat obama.

    “Why did CONGRESS OBSTRUCT every piece of legislation presented by the president?”
    Because Romney is a bully, power monger. He wants to be president for power and profit. He gridlocked the republicans against moving forward, which does not make him a bi-partisan leader, he voted against America’s progress for his own selfish gain. Yes I would agree with the description being treason against America and the American people.

    Why did the COURT legalize PACs at this time?
    All part of the republican plan to take over America by spending millions to spread lies about our honorable president, hoping the public will believe them, become outraged, and elect Romney as president. The laws passed to allow corporations to spend unlimited monies for a candidate was created around the same time to accomplish same, to buy the election to make Romney president.

    “Mitt promised 12 Million Jobs . How could he do that given this economy especially when he was GOV of MA he was 47th in job creation.”
    This is an excellent question. Also, he buys companies, runs up debt, files bankruptcy, liquidates, lays off and outsources, leaving American employees unemployed, for his own profit. Rather inhumane and cut throat I would say. Our president Obama is trying to encourage the creation of ‘good’ jobs for Americans.

    This is America, we are free, but the videos of Ryan’s speeches, the goings on of republicans attempting to remove public bargaining rights, Koch’s Prosperity for American de-segregating our childrens schools K-12, shows me that we won’t be free if Romney gets elected.

    Tagg Romney wanting to punch our president for our president calling out Romney on his lying, (which Romney has done constantly), Tagg purchasing election vote counting machines for Oklahoma, Colorado, Ohio. Tagg then supposedly appoligizes, I do not think anyone really knows. That does not make it ok to me, he still has the voting machines and obviously would be in favor of his own father over President Obama.

    I am older as well. I will fight for women’s rights, public bargaining rights and alternative and clean energy.

    The Koch Brothers, the R/R and the republicans have it all rigged to remove rights, well being and the pursuit of happiness from men, women, children and our elderly in America, all for personal greed.

    We have an honest, good president, vp and secretary of state. I am for Obama/Biden 2012.

    I hope someone in government will answer your questions. Have you tried the whitehouse. President Barack Obama has the first ever open policy to the people. He cares about all of the American people.

  7. Jayme Wilkerson October 25, 2012 at 5:38 am

    First of all I am not an expert at all.

    I am a fellow American that is of the opinion Republican’s are commiting treason to takeover America, through money to buy this election.

    My response to a few of your statements/questions:

    “written to Justice Roberts asking him to explain why two justices were in attendence at the Koch brothers retreat.”
    You are right, they are not supposed to attend or participate in any endorsement for a political party. The retreat you are talking about is: allies pledge $100 million at private meeting to beat obama.

    “Why did CONGRESS OBSTRUCT every piece of legislation presented by the president?”
    Because Romney is a bully, power monger. He wants to be president for power and profit. He gridlocked the republicans against moving forward, which does not make him a bi-partisan leader, he voted against America’s progress for his own selfish gain. Yes I would agree with the description being treason against America and the American people.

    Why did the COURT legalize PACs at this time?
    All part of the republican plan to take over America by spending millions to spread lies about our honorable president, hoping the public will believe them, become outraged, and elect Romney as president. The laws passed to allow corporations to spend unlimited monies for a candidate was created around the same time to accomplish same, to buy the election to make Romney president.

    “Mitt promised 12 Million Jobs . How could he do that given this economy especially when he was GOV of MA he was 47th in job creation.”
    This is an excellent question. Also, he buys companies, runs up debt, files bankruptcy, liquidates, lays off and outsources, leaving American employees unemployed, for his own profit. Rather inhumane and cut throat I would say. Our president Obama is trying to encourage the creation of ‘good’ jobs for Americans.

    This is America, we are free, but the videos of Ryan’s speeches, the goings on of republicans attempting to remove public bargaining rights, Koch’s Prosperity for American de-segregating our childrens schools K-12, shows me that we won’t be free if Romney gets elected.

    Tagg Romney wanting to punch our president for our president calling out Romney on his lying, (which Romney has done constantly), Tagg purchasing election vote counting machines for Oklahoma, Colorado, Ohio. Tagg then supposedly appoligizes, I do not think anyone really knows. That does not make it ok to me, he still has the voting machines and obviously would be in favor of his own father over President Obama.

    I am older as well. I will fight for women’s rights, public bargaining rights and alternative and clean energy.

    The Koch Brothers, the R/R and the republicans have it all rigged to remove rights, well being and the pursuit of happiness from men, women, children and our elderly in America, all for personal greed.

    We have an honest, good president, vp and secretary of state. I am for Obama/Biden 2012.

    I hope someone in government will answer your questions. Have you tried the whitehouse. President Barack Obama has the first ever open policy to the people. He cares about all of the American people.

  8. Jayme Wilkerson October 25, 2012 at 5:38 am

    First of all I am not an expert at all.

    I am a fellow American that is of the opinion Republican’s are commiting treason to takeover America, through money to buy this election.

    My response to a few of your statements/questions:

    “written to Justice Roberts asking him to explain why two justices were in attendence at the Koch brothers retreat.”
    You are right, they are not supposed to attend or participate in any endorsement for a political party. The retreat you are talking about is: allies pledge $100 million at private meeting to beat obama.

    “Why did CONGRESS OBSTRUCT every piece of legislation presented by the president?”
    Because Romney is a bully, power monger. He wants to be president for power and profit. He gridlocked the republicans against moving forward, which does not make him a bi-partisan leader, he voted against America’s progress for his own selfish gain. Yes I would agree with the description being treason against America and the American people.

    Why did the COURT legalize PACs at this time?
    All part of the republican plan to take over America by spending millions to spread lies about our honorable president, hoping the public will believe them, become outraged, and elect Romney as president. The laws passed to allow corporations to spend unlimited monies for a candidate was created around the same time to accomplish same, to buy the election to make Romney president.

    “Mitt promised 12 Million Jobs . How could he do that given this economy especially when he was GOV of MA he was 47th in job creation.”
    This is an excellent question. Also, he buys companies, runs up debt, files bankruptcy, liquidates, lays off and outsources, leaving American employees unemployed, for his own profit. Rather inhumane and cut throat I would say. Our president Obama is trying to encourage the creation of ‘good’ jobs for Americans.

    This is America, we are free, but the videos of Ryan’s speeches, the goings on of republicans attempting to remove public bargaining rights, Koch’s Prosperity for American de-segregating our childrens schools K-12, shows me that we won’t be free if Romney gets elected.

    Tagg Romney wanting to punch our president for our president calling out Romney on his lying, (which Romney has done constantly), Tagg purchasing election vote counting machines for Oklahoma, Colorado, Ohio. Tagg then supposedly appoligizes, I do not think anyone really knows. That does not make it ok to me, he still has the voting machines and obviously would be in favor of his own father over President Obama.

    I am older as well. I will fight for women’s rights, public bargaining rights and alternative and clean energy.

    The Koch Brothers, the R/R and the republicans have it all rigged to remove rights, well being and the pursuit of happiness from men, women, children and our elderly in America, all for personal greed.

    We have an honest, good president, vp and secretary of state. I am for Obama/Biden 2012.

    I hope someone in government will answer your questions. Have you tried the whitehouse. President Barack Obama has the first ever open policy to the people. He cares about all of the American people.

  9. Jayme Wilkerson October 25, 2012 at 5:38 am

    First of all I am not an expert at all.

    I am a fellow American that is of the opinion Republican’s are commiting treason to takeover America, through money to buy this election.

    My response to a few of your statements/questions:

    “written to Justice Roberts asking him to explain why two justices were in attendence at the Koch brothers retreat.”
    You are right, they are not supposed to attend or participate in any endorsement for a political party. The retreat you are talking about is: allies pledge $100 million at private meeting to beat obama.

    “Why did CONGRESS OBSTRUCT every piece of legislation presented by the president?”
    Because Romney is a bully, power monger. He wants to be president for power and profit. He gridlocked the republicans against moving forward, which does not make him a bi-partisan leader, he voted against America’s progress for his own selfish gain. Yes I would agree with the description being treason against America and the American people.

    Why did the COURT legalize PACs at this time?
    All part of the republican plan to take over America by spending millions to spread lies about our honorable president, hoping the public will believe them, become outraged, and elect Romney as president. The laws passed to allow corporations to spend unlimited monies for a candidate was created around the same time to accomplish same, to buy the election to make Romney president.

    “Mitt promised 12 Million Jobs . How could he do that given this economy especially when he was GOV of MA he was 47th in job creation.”
    This is an excellent question. Also, he buys companies, runs up debt, files bankruptcy, liquidates, lays off and outsources, leaving American employees unemployed, for his own profit. Rather inhumane and cut throat I would say. Our president Obama is trying to encourage the creation of ‘good’ jobs for Americans.

    This is America, we are free, but the videos of Ryan’s speeches, the goings on of republicans attempting to remove public bargaining rights, Koch’s Prosperity for American de-segregating our childrens schools K-12, shows me that we won’t be free if Romney gets elected.

    Tagg Romney wanting to punch our president for our president calling out Romney on his lying, (which Romney has done constantly), Tagg purchasing election vote counting machines for Oklahoma, Colorado, Ohio. Tagg then supposedly appoligizes, I do not think anyone really knows. That does not make it ok to me, he still has the voting machines and obviously would be in favor of his own father over President Obama.

    I am older as well. I will fight for women’s rights, public bargaining rights and alternative and clean energy.

    The Koch Brothers, the R/R and the republicans have it all rigged to remove rights, well being and the pursuit of happiness from men, women, children and our elderly in America, all for personal greed.

    We have an honest, good president, vp and secretary of state. I am for Obama/Biden 2012.

    I hope someone in government will answer your questions. Have you tried the whitehouse. President Barack Obama has the first ever open policy to the people. He cares about all of the American people.

  10. Jayme Wilkerson October 25, 2012 at 5:38 am

    First of all I am not an expert at all.

    I am a fellow American that is of the opinion Republican’s are commiting treason to takeover America, through money to buy this election.

    My response to a few of your statements/questions:

    “written to Justice Roberts asking him to explain why two justices were in attendence at the Koch brothers retreat.”
    You are right, they are not supposed to attend or participate in any endorsement for a political party. The retreat you are talking about is: allies pledge $100 million at private meeting to beat obama.

    “Why did CONGRESS OBSTRUCT every piece of legislation presented by the president?”
    Because Romney is a bully, power monger. He wants to be president for power and profit. He gridlocked the republicans against moving forward, which does not make him a bi-partisan leader, he voted against America’s progress for his own selfish gain. Yes I would agree with the description being treason against America and the American people.

    Why did the COURT legalize PACs at this time?
    All part of the republican plan to take over America by spending millions to spread lies about our honorable president, hoping the public will believe them, become outraged, and elect Romney as president. The laws passed to allow corporations to spend unlimited monies for a candidate was created around the same time to accomplish same, to buy the election to make Romney president.

    “Mitt promised 12 Million Jobs . How could he do that given this economy especially when he was GOV of MA he was 47th in job creation.”
    This is an excellent question. Also, he buys companies, runs up debt, files bankruptcy, liquidates, lays off and outsources, leaving American employees unemployed, for his own profit. Rather inhumane and cut throat I would say. Our president Obama is trying to encourage the creation of ‘good’ jobs for Americans.

    This is America, we are free, but the videos of Ryan’s speeches, the goings on of republicans attempting to remove public bargaining rights, Koch’s Prosperity for American de-segregating our childrens schools K-12, shows me that we won’t be free if Romney gets elected.

    Tagg Romney wanting to punch our president for our president calling out Romney on his lying, (which Romney has done constantly), Tagg purchasing election vote counting machines for Oklahoma, Colorado, Ohio. Tagg then supposedly appoligizes, I do not think anyone really knows. That does not make it ok to me, he still has the voting machines and obviously would be in favor of his own father over President Obama.

    I am older as well. I will fight for women’s rights, public bargaining rights and alternative and clean energy.

    The Koch Brothers, the R/R and the republicans have it all rigged to remove rights, well being and the pursuit of happiness from men, women, children and our elderly in America, all for personal greed.

    We have an honest, good president, vp and secretary of state. I am for Obama/Biden 2012.

    I hope someone in government will answer your questions. Have you tried the whitehouse. President Barack Obama has the first ever open policy to the people. He cares about all of the American people.

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