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Supreme Court Justices must be held accountable for their ethics violations

The Supreme Court Justices of the United States
The Supreme Court Justices of the United States
pool photo/Zuma Press

When it comes to being held accountable for ethics violations with federal judges the laws currently in place do not apply to the Supreme Court. All other federal judges have to follow a Code of Conduct.

But the Code of Conduct stops at the Supreme Court level, they are in essence “above the law” when it comes to their ethical behavior.

Democrats in Congress today are introducing the Supreme Court Ethics Act of 2013 which would subject the justices to the same Code of Conduct for United States Judges. The legislation was introduced by Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

The Code of Conduct says that all federal judges must abide by the Code of Conduct for United States Judges, a set of ethical principles and guidelines adopted by the Judicial Conference of the United States. The Code of Conduct provides guidance for judges on issues of judicial integrity and independence, judicial diligence and impartiality, permissible extra-judicial activities, and the avoidance of impropriety or even its appearance.

Judges may not hear cases in which they have either personal knowledge of the disputed facts, a personal bias concerning a party to the case, earlier involvement in the case as a lawyer, or a financial interest in any party or subject matter of the case.

In a report by Mother Jones, they point out that in 2011 Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia headlined a fundraiser for the conservative legal group, the Federalist Society. Ordinary federal judges couldn't have done that. Both also have attended hush-hush political events hosted by Koch Industries that are billed as efforts "to review strategies for combating the multitude of public policies that threaten to destroy America as we know it." Koch Industries is owned by the right-wing Koch family that's been dumping millions of dollars into Republican politics, particularly after the court decided in Citizens United to allow unlimited corporate money into the electoral system.

The wife of Justice Clarence Thomas, Virginia "Ginni" Thomas, has been in the news recently after Mother Jones revealed her involvement in Groundswell, a secret effort by a group of conservatives to organize their fight against liberals, mainstream Republicans, and Karl Rove. Her political activity has once again raised questions about whether she is creating conflicts of interest for her husband, and whether he should be forced to recuse himself from cases that involve Ginni's work.

No one should be above the law, but our law makers have created laws that do just that. It is time to rectify this injustice and apply the same Code of Conduct that all other federal judges must abide by to those that serve on the Supreme Court.

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