The New York Times reported this week that a commission of the American Bar Association (A.B.A.) is recommending that the group water down the language of its code of judicial ethics. The A.B.A. Model Code of Judicial Conduct, used as a template for the judicial ethics codes of most states, currently has a mandatory rule that judges must "avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety." In the newly revised version, this eighty-three year old language remains, but is relegated to the status of a mere suggestion, rather than a rule. The proposed change would mean that judges could no longer be disciplined for violating the "nonbinding advice," but should simply use it as "important guidance."
The commission's revisions have come under attack from judges, nonpartisan judiciary watchdog groups, and members of the A.B.A. itself. In fact, Robert H. Tembeckjian, the administrator of the New York State Commission of Judicial Conduct, has resigned his post as an A.B.A. commission advisor in protest of the change, saying it makes a well-established standard into "a virtually meaningless phrase." He predicts that those of us devoted to "defending judicial independence from relentless attack" will not support this retreat from a "longstanding and widely embraced" rule of ethics.
We guess this means that Justice Scalia can go ahead and schedule his next hunting trip with the vice president without worrying.