Law professors ask Congress to subject Supreme Court justices to ethics rules

[JURIST] A group of law professors asked Congress Wednesday to extend the Code of Conduct for United States Judges [text, PDF] to apply to the Supreme Court [official website]. In a letter [text, PDF] to the House and Senate Judiciary Comittees [official websites], more than 100 law professors representing 67 schools urged Congress to advance legislation to apply the Code to Supreme Court justices, establish a procedural framework for enforcement, require a written opinion for every denial of a motion to recuse and create a review procedure for those decisions. In support of their position, the professors cited the court's own ruling in Caperton v. AT Massey Coal [JURIST report], a 2009 case in which the court decried the self-judging of ethics issues by judges. The group argued that, by its own reasoning, the lack of review for the same judgments made by Supreme Court justices is inappropriate:

Unlike Caperton, where the Supreme Court reversed the self-judged view of a single state court judge, there is no review procedure for recusal decisions by Supreme Court justices. Individual justices rule themselves on motions to recuse, or decide sua sponte to recuse in cases where no motion is filed. No written opinion is required in either situation. The opacity and non-reviewability of this process erodes public confidence in the integrity of the Court. The fundamental principle that "no man may be a judge in his own case" was articulated by Lord Coke in the seventeenth century, yet inexplicably we still allow Supreme Court justices to be the sole judge of themselves on recusal issues.
Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT) [official website] announced last week that he plans to introduce a bill [press release] to address such ethical issues.

Wednesday's letter comes amid a wave of criticism for the court as a series of politically charged and divisive decisions has been followed by accusations of ethically troubling activities by justices Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito [Oyez profiles]. Of particular focus have been questions surrounding Thomas and Scalia's relationships with conservative businessmen David and Charles Koch, owners of Koch Industries [corporate website], a multibillion dollar company with large oil, gas and paper operations which is involved in hundreds of cases currently before federal judges. In January, Common Cause [advocacy group] petitioned [text] the Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] to investigate the justices' relationship with the company and the impact it may have had on the court's controversial 5-4 decision [text, PDF; JURIST report] in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission [materials] last year. Thomas has also fallen under fire for his wife's founding of Liberty Consulting [corporate website], a right-leaning political consultancy, shortly after leaving her position as the head of Liberty Central [NYT report], a conservative website with ties to the Tea Party movement.

 

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