The Supreme Court has failed to reach consensus on an code of conduct specific to the nine justices despite internal discussion dating back at least four years, reports the Washington Post. It remains an active topic at the court, and the court’s legal counsel Ethan Torrey prepared a working document of issues for justices to consider. There is no timeline for the justices to act. The inertia has frustrated critics, whose demands for reform have intensified. The court’s profile has become more prominent as a new majority has moved rapidly on a range of polarizing issues. That has increased scrutiny on the justices, the activities of their spouses and when the court’s members should recuse themselves from cases.
Justice Clarence Thomas, whose wife “Ginni” took an active role in challenging the outcome of the 2020 presidential election while her husband considered cases on the subject, has become a particular focus. This week, leaders of the American Bar Association joined those urging action, saying that “the absence of a clearly articulated, binding code of ethics for the justices of the Court imperils the legitimacy of the Court.” “This is a break-the-glass moment on Supreme Court ethics,” said Gabe Roth of the group Fix the Court, which has long advocated for greater accountability and transparency. “I don’t think an ethics code is a panacea, but I think there is a perception that the justices are not taking their ethical responsibilities seriously enough.” Although the justices say they voluntarily comply with the same ethical guidelines that apply to other federal judges, the lack of an ethics code has become a prominent complaint on Capitol Hill, where in 2019 Justice Elena Kagan told a congressional committee that Chief Justice John Roberts was “seriously” studying the issue.