The Supreme Court on Monday issued a new ‘Code of Conduct’ following months of heightened scrutiny from Senate Judiciary Democrats pushing for new ethics laws for the high court.
‘The undersigned Justices are promulgating this Code of Conduct to set out succinctly and gather in one place the ethics rules and principles that guide the conduct of the Members of the Court,’ the announcement Monday read.
‘For the most part these rules and principles are not new: The Court has long had the equivalent of common law ethics rules, that is, a body of rules derived from a variety of sources, including statutory provisions, the code that applies to other members of the federal judiciary, ethics advisory opinions issued by the Judicial Conference Committee on Codes of Conduct, and historic practice,’ the statement reads.
‘The absence of a Code, however, has led in recent years to the misunderstanding that the Justices of this Court, unlike all other jurists in this country, regard themselves as unrestricted by any ethics rules. To dispel this misunderstanding, we are issuing this Code, which largely represents a codification of principles that we have long regarded as governing our conduct,’ it says.
The Code is a set of five ‘canons,’ including two new canons that appear to be in response to reports over travel arrangements for private trips taken by Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas paid by others, and use of Court staff for book promotion — referring to a recent report on that staff of Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s staff urged colleges and libraries to buy her latest book.
‘A Justice should not to any substantial degree use judicial chambers, resources, or staff to engage in activities that do not materially support official functions or other activities permitted under these Canons,’ the code states.
‘A Justice may accept reasonable compensation and reimbursement of expenses for permitted activities if the source of the payments does not give the appearance of influencing the Justice’s official duties or otherwise appear improper,’ the rules say.
‘Expense reimbursement should be limited to the actual or reasonably estimated costs of travel, food, and lodging reasonably incurred by the Justice and, where appropriate to the occasion, by the Justice’s spouse or relative,’ the new code says.
The Code also states that, ‘For some time, all Justices have agreed to comply with the statute governing financial disclosure, and the undersigned Members of the Court each individually reaffirm that commitment.’
Fox News has learned that the Court has been meeting privately for months on how to structure a new ethics code, one that would address public concerns over ethics without abdicating what the Chief Justice in particular had said was the court’s independence on such matters from congressional oversight.
Justices Elena Kagan, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett in recent weeks had all publicly voiced support for a new ethics code.
Chief Justice Roberts in May issued a statement signed by all nine members of the court saying there was more work for the court to do to ‘adhere to the highest ethical standards.’
Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee had mounted relentless pressure on the high court after reports that Justices Thomas and Alito went on luxury vacations paid for by friends.
Ranking Member Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. accused his Democratic counterparts of launching ‘a concentrated effort’ to delegitimize the conservative majority Supreme Court.
‘This is not about trying to update the ability of the court to be more transparent, it’s about an effort to destroy the legitimacy of this conservative court,’ Graham said in May.
Republican Senator John Kennedy, R-La., called the Democrat-sponsored legislation – the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency (SCERT) Act – a ‘court-killing machine’ that was both ‘dangerous’ and ‘unserious.’
It’s unclear whether Committee Democrats will continue to push for their reforms in light of the Supreme Court’s announcement Monday.