Blumenthal, Murphy Take on US Supreme Court Ethics

It may surprise some people to know that justices of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) are not bound by the same code of conduct that all other federal judges do. Connecticut US Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy are introducing a bill to change that.

The two Connecticut senators are joined by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D- RI) and US Rep. Louise Slaughter in introducing the bill. As The Shad reported last month, recent issues have brought the topic to the forefront from possible conflicts of interest to disrespectful mannerisms and snarky comments.

All lower federal courts are bound by the Code of Conduct for United States Judges but conduct standards for the nation’s highest court are pretty much left to the justices themselves. The code, if in effect for SCOTUS, may have forced some recusals by the justices for possible conflicts and certainly would have put a lid on the disrespectful comportment by justices against their colleagues.

One driving force behind the effort to apply the code to SCOTUS is the controversy over the activities of Justice Clarence Thomas’ wife Ginni. She is deeply involved with conservative group Groundswell which is actively involved in advocating on issues before the court. Other instances of justices attending fundraisers for politically active groups are also troubling.

Personal mannerisms are also a problem. In June, Justice Samuel Alito “pursed his lips, rolled his eyes to the ceiling, and shook his head ‘no’” when fellow Justice Ruth Ginsburg read a dissent in two cases. It wasn’t Alito’s first offense. He was seen shaking his head during President Obama’s 2010 state of the union address when he spoke about the court’s Citizens United decision.

Blumenthal and Murphy made their intentions clear in June when they and Slaughter penned a letter to the editor of the New York Times.