Friday, June 21, 2024

U.S. Supreme Court unveils new code of ethics for Justices

By Stacy M. Brown
NNPA Senior National

The Supreme Court unveiled an ethics code for its justices on Monday, marking a departure from its historical absence of such regulations. The move comes in the wake of heightened scrutiny and revelations surrounding undisclosed property deals and gifts that have raised concerns about the ethical conduct of some justices.

In an official statement, the court highlighted the code’s purpose as providing a comprehensive framework for ethical conduct. “For the most part, these rules and principles are not new,” the court explained. It emphasized that the absence of a code had led to what the court said was the misconception that justices were exempt from ethical constraints.

While lower federal judges adhere to an ethics code governing their conduct, Supreme Court justices have never been subject to the same rules due to their unique constitutional status. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., in a letter to lawmakers earlier this year, indicated that the court draws guidance from the ethics code applicable to other federal judges.

The decision to adopt the ethics code follows a series of controversies surrounding undisclosed dealings, including a revelation involving conservative Justice Clarence Thomas. Thomas acknowledged undisclosed travel expenses funded by billionaire associate Harlan Crow in his most recent annual financial disclosure report.


While lower federal judges adhere to an ethics code governing their conduct, Supreme Court justices have never been subject to the same rules due to their unique constitutional status. (Ipse Dixit / Unsplash)

The report detailed several trips facilitated by Crow, including a conservative conference in Dallas and a vacation to the Adirondacks. Thomas, citing security concerns related to a leaked draft opinion on the Roe v. Wade case, defended using a private jet for one trip. The report, compiled with the assistance of attorney Elliot Berke, asserted that there were no intentional ethical violations and that any discrepancies in previous reports were unintentional.

The disclosures stem from a ProPublica exposé outlining Thomas’s acceptance of luxurious trips from Crow, a prominent Republican donor, which were not disclosed in previous financial reports.

In response to these revelations, Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are urging the Supreme Court to implement new ethical guidelines. The controversy also prompted a change in disclosure regulations in March, requiring justices to disclose private aircraft travel and stays at privately owned resorts.

Justice Thomas justified the gifts from Crow as “personal hospitality,” exempt from previous regulations requiring disclosure. The recent report further addressed Crow’s acquisition of Thomas’s family-owned real estate in Savannah, clarifying that Thomas’s financial loss in the transaction was due to a prior investment in his mother’s property.
Furthermore, the report revealed omissions in Thomas’s previous submissions, including the disclosure of bank accounts and other financial matters held by his conservative political activist wife, Ginni Thomas.

An August 2023 ProPublica report exposed additional details of Thomas’s extensive travel, financed by billionaire backers, raising concerns from Democrats and ethics experts. The report claimed that the new information revealed that Thomas’s lifestyle far exceeded his reported income, potentially violating ethics laws.

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) tweeted in response to the revelations, “Justice Thomas has brought shame upon himself and the United States Supreme Court with his acceptance of massive, repeated, and undisclosed gifts. He should resign immediately.”


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