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Friday, February 25, 2011

A Call for Supreme Court Ethics Reform

There have been dozens of stories written in the past few weeks about whether or not several Supreme Court justices have been upholding the high ethical standards we expect of our nation's highest court. The reports have looked at the justices’ participation in political activities and fundraising events, as well as questions related to whether justices should recuse themselves -- or should have recused themselves -- from cases before the Court.

Disturbed by these accounts, 107 law professors from 76 law schools all across the country have come together to voice their concern and suggest solutions. In an open letter to the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, the professors lay out weaknesses in the ethics rules and recusal process governing Supreme Courts justices, and propose reforms, including that the justices be made subject to the same mandatory code of conduct that governs all other federal judges.

The law professors' letter is not just a wake-up call; it's also a starting point. This unbiased, non-political, diverse group of experts came together to propose a common-sense solution aimed at bringing more transparency to the Court and restoring public confidence in its deliberations and decisions.

The letter recommends four concrete reforms:
  • Apply the Code of Conduct for United States Judges to Supreme Court justices;
  • Establish a set of procedures to enforce the Code’s standards as applied to Supreme Court justices;
  • Require a written opinion when a Supreme Court justice denies a motion to recuse; and
  • Determine a procedure, or require the Court to do so, that provides for a review of a decision by a Supreme Court justice not to recuse himself or herself from a case pending before the Court
The letter, along with news articles and other resources on Supreme Court ethics, can be found online at the Alliance for Justice website.

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