A Historic First: US Supreme Court Adopts A Code Of Ethics – OpEd


By Joshua Kaplan, Justin Elliott, Brett Murphy and Alex Mierjeski

The Supreme Court on Monday released a code of conduct governing the behavior of the country’s most powerful judges for the first time in its history.

The nine-page code, with an accompanying five pages of commentary, was signed by all the sitting justices and covers everything from the acceptance of gifts, to recusal standards, to avoiding improper outside influence on the justices. It comes following months of stories by ProPublica and other news outlets that revealed a stream of undisclosed gifts to Justice Clarence Thomas by a set of billionaire benefactors and a private jet flight provided to Justice Samuel Alito by a businessman who later had cases at the court.

An accompanying statement released by the court said the code was formulated to dispel “the misunderstanding that the Justices of this Court, unlike all other jurists in this country, regard themselves as unrestricted by any ethics rules.” It said the code “largely represents a codification of principles that we have long regarded as governing our conduct.”

The code does not spell out any enforcement mechanism. It does not lay out an oversight process and it remains unclear who, if anyone, would determine whether a justice violated a part of the code. Nevertheless, some observers described the creation of an explicit, written code as a landmark in the court’s history.

“The Supreme Court’s promulgation of a code of conduct today is of surpassing historic significance,” said former federal appellate judge J. Michael Luttig. “The court must lead by the example that only it can set for the federal judiciary, as it does today.”

About the authors:

  • Joshua Kaplan is a reporter at ProPublica.
  • Justin Elliott is a ProPublica reporter covering politics and government accountability. To securely send Justin documents or other files online, visit our SecureDrop page or reach him through one of the methods below.
  • Brett Murphy is a reporter on ProPublica’s national desk. His work uncovering a new junk science known as 911 call analysis won a George Polk Award, among other honors.
  • Alex Mierjeski is a research reporter at ProPublica.

Source: This article was published by ProPublica


ProPublica is an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism with moral force. We dig deep into important issues, shining a light on abuses of power and betrayals of public trust — and we stick with those issues as long as it takes to hold power to account.

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