12 January 2011

The comments by the United States Chief Justice in his annual report do not find favour with the New York Times.  The following is extracted from last Thursday’s editorial.

Judicial Ethics and the Supreme Court

Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. tried to address growing concerns about ethical behavior and conflicts of interest on the Supreme Court in his annual report on the federal judiciary. But he skirted the heart of the problem: the justices are the only American judges not bound by a code of ethics.

He dismissed criticism that justices are exempt from the Judicial Conference’s Code of Conduct, contending that they do “consult” the code, which “plays the same role” for the court as it does for other federal judges.

But he misstates the code’s authority. While a justice can ignore the code, all other judges must obey it. If the Supreme Court is serious about abiding by an ethics code, there are ways for it to do so without impinging on the court’s independence and its constitutional role.

Until the court takes these steps, there will be continuing concerns about the justices’ impartiality. It is not enough for the justices to rely on their own “constant vigilance and good judgment,” as Chief Justice Roberts contends. It is disingenuous for him to claim that “no compilation of ethical rules can guarantee integrity” when no code currently applies to the court. Adopting a conduct code would clarify the rules that apply to the justices and greatly bolster public confidence in the court.