Following recent allegations that several justices of the US Supreme Court had neglected to properly declare vacation gifts and other benefits on their yearly federal disclosure files, the court has been under increasing pressure to establish a set of ethical guidelines. In an article published in early April, ProPublica took aim at Clarence Thomas, the justice with the longest tenure.
A few weeks later, an exposé by POLITICO claimed that Justice Neil Gorsuch had withheld information about the buyer of a nearly two million dollar home. Then, in August, news broke that some of Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s staff members had apparently threatened to force colleges and other organizations to buy copies of her biography and children’s book in exchange for her agreeing to give keynote addresses at their events. This revelation sent media outlets into a frenzy.
Amidst this upheaval, there were calls for an inquiry of the judges, especially from left-leaning liberals and members of the Democratic Party. Some demanded that the nation’s highest court be given a set of moral guidelines. The Supreme Court of Justice ultimately unveiled a new set of guidelines for their behavior, a first for the panel of judges, following months of deliberation and more than a few clues.
The Supreme Court unveiled its eagerly awaited new Code of Conduct on November 13. Four canons that recommended appropriate behavior for the justices in extrajudicial contexts and while carrying out their official duties were included in the nine-page regulations.
Four of those guidelines/canons recommended that the justices:
- Uphold the independence and integrity of the nation’s judicial branch;
- Avoid impropriety of its appearance during all activities;
- Perform their duties “fairly, impartially, and diligently;”
- Refrain from engaging in any political activity under any circumstances.
According to the existing canon, a justice may partake in extracurricular activities as long as they did not conflict with their duties as members of the Supreme Court.
The last page of the revised Code of Conduct bears the signatures of all nine judges.