ABA Urges Supreme Court to Adopt Code of Conduct Amid Growing Ethical Questions

The Supreme Court is facing a crisis of public confidence, with a series of ethical questions and controversies surrounding conservative-leaning justices chipping away at public trust in the nation’s highest court. But while Congress has introduced bills to force the court to adopt a mandatory code of conduct, the Supreme Court has so far failed to reach consensus on the issue and it remains unclear if one will ever be adopted.

The American Bar Association (ABA) this week passed a resolution formally urging the Supreme Court to adopt a code of conduct. The ABA’s House of Delegates voted to call on the court to adopt a code of judicial ethics, such as the ones under which other federal judges work, and for other bar associations across the nation to pass their own resolutions urging the court to adopt a code of ethics binding on the justices.

Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) is set to re-introduce legislation on Thursday that would require the justices to adopt a code, which has more than 20 co-sponsors in the Senate.[0] But previous efforts to pass a code of conduct for the Supreme Court have failed, and it is not expected that this bill will find more success, given that Republicans now control the House and can block legislation in the Senate.

The ABA’s resolution said the absence of a clearly articulated, binding code of ethics for the justices threatens the legitimacy of the court.[1] It also raised the issue of separation of powers, as such a code would raise issues if Congress created it, as it could amount to a legislative takeover of judicial authority.[2]

Chief Justice John Roberts addressed the court's inaction on the issue in his 2011 end-of-year report on the judiciary, saying it was a “misconception” that the Supreme Court has more lax ethical standards than lower courts.[3] But the most recent ethical issues surrounding the court have involved conservative-leaning justices, including Ginni Thomas’ efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election, Samuel Alito’s dinner with two donors before the court’s 2014 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, and John Roberts’ wife’s work as a legal recruiter.

As such, the Supreme Court needs to take steps to improve its ethical standards and adhere to a code of conduct similar to the one that applies to other federal judges.

0. “Supreme Court Justices Reportedly Can’t Figure Out How To Adopt Ethics Code Amid Controversies” Forbes, 9 Feb. 2023, https://www.forbes.com/sites/alisondurkee/2023/02/09/supreme-court-justices-reportedly-cant-figure-out-how-to-adopt-ethics-code-amid-controversies

1. “‘Stop Ignoring the Call': The ABA Wants a Code of Ethics for Supreme Court Justices | New Jersey Law Journal” Law.com, 7 Feb. 2023, https://www.law.com/njlawjournal/2023/02/07/stop-ignoring-the-call-the-aba-wants-a-code-of-ethics-for-supreme-court-justices/

2. “A new Supreme Court spousal controversy is bringing back up a bad solution” msnNOW, 6 Feb. 2023, https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/opinion/a-new-supreme-court-spousal-controversy-is-bringing-back-up-a-bad-solution/ar-AA179Lob?li=BBnb7Kz

3. “American Bar Association Urges Ethics Code for US Supreme Court” Bloomberg Law, 7 Feb. 2023, https://news.bloomberglaw.com/us-law-week/american-bar-association-urges-ethics-code-for-us-supreme-court