Gavel Grab

In Plea for Supreme Standards, Caperton Cited

In arguing for new ethics standards for Supreme Court justices, an activist cites the court’s landmark Caperton v. Massey ruling from 2009.

Nan Aron, president of the Alliance for Justice, writes in a Washington Post op-ed:

“The Supreme Court, whose members are shielded with lifetime appointments, is the only entity in our government that is not subject to mandatory ethics requirements. That is why reformers are calling for the Code of Conduct that governs all other federal judges to apply to the justices. Surely it makes no sense to have lesser standards for the highest court than those in place for lower courts.”

Aron discusses questions raised about the appearance by Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas at “political strategy conferences hosted by the conservative Koch brothers” (see Gavel Grab for background). If the judicial Code of Conduct were applied to Supreme Court justices, she says, only a small number of events would be placed off-limits for justices, and the impact on the court’s integrity would be “huge.”

Aron concludes by citing Caperton:

“Some suspect this is an effort by progressives to tweak justices they don’t like. But the Supreme Court itself effectively answered that charge in 2009. In Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co., a case that dealt with a West Virginia Supreme Court justice who ruled in favor of a corporation that had made large contributions to his campaign, the high court said that ‘codes of conduct serve to maintain the integrity of the judiciary and the rule of law.’”

“That indisputable principle ought to be applied to the same court that wrote those words.”

Alliance for Justice is an association of liberal advocacy organizations. Meanwhile Deborah L. Rhode, who teaches at Stanford Law School, advocates in a National Law Journal commentary for legislation in Congress to extend the ethics code to the justices (see earlier Gavel Grab post about the bill).  Rhode asserts:

“The crucial issue in recent cases raising ethical questions is not whether the conduct of justices compromised the Court’s credibility. It is whether they alone should have been the ones to decide.”

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