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Amy Coney Barrett says she supports an ethics code for Supreme Court justices

Supreme Court Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett speaks during the Seventh Circuit Judicial Conference on Monday, Aug. 28, 2023, in Lake Geneva, Wis.
Morry Gash
Supreme Court Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett speaks during the Seventh Circuit Judicial Conference on Monday, Aug. 28, 2023, in Lake Geneva, Wis.

As members of the U.S. Supreme Court continue to face scrutiny over potential ethical transgressions, one justice said this week she supports implementing an ethics code for the high court.

Speaking at an event at the University of Minnesota on Monday, Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett said she favors the idea of an ethics code.

"I think it would be a good idea for us to do it, particularly so that we can communicate to the public exactly what it is that we are doing in a clearer way than perhaps we have been able to do so far," Barrett said.

Barrett added that she couldn't say when the court would impose such a set of rules, or what any future code of conduct might look like.

"All nine justices are very committed to the highest standards of ethical conduct," Barrett said. "And we're in agreement about what to do. And that we want to continue to follow the highest ethical standards," she said.

Supreme Court justices are supposed to abide by financial disclosure provisions that apply to all federal judges. But the high court isn't beholden to other federal ethics rules, and the justices alone decide when to recuse themselves from cases.

Recent investigations by ProPublica have raised questions about possible ethics violations among justices and renewed calls for a Supreme Court code of ethics.

ProPublica found that conservative Justice Clarence Thomas failed to disclose lavish trips, among other spending, paid for by his longtime friend Harlan Crow, a Republican megadonor. Thomas later issued a statement saying that when he first joined the court, he was advised that he did not have to disclose hospitality from personal friends.

Billionaire Paul Singer paid for Justice Samuel Alito to fly on a private jet to a luxury fishing trip in Alaska, after which Singer's hedge fund had multiple cases before the high court, the outlet reported. Alito similarly failed to disclose the trip, according to ProPublica. In a June op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal, Alito defended his actions, saying he had no obligation to recuse himself from cases involving Singer and that he had only interacted with him "on a handful of occasions."

Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Neil Gorsuch have also faced ethics questions in recent months.

Barrett isn't the first sitting justice to back a code of ethics. Elena Kagan suggested that a Supreme Court ethics code would be a "good thing," while Brett Kavanaugh said in September he hoped there would be "concrete steps soon" to address the questions facing the court.

Chief Justice John Roberts said earlier this year that the court could do more to "adhere to the highest standards" of ethics and that the justices were "continuing to look at the things we can do to give practical effect to that commitment."

The Senate Judiciary Committee invited Roberts to testify about ethics matters related to the court in the spring, but he declined.

The panel later voted along party lines — with Democrats in favor and Republicans against — to send to the Senate floor a bill that would require the Supreme Court to adopt a code of ethics and force justices to explain their recusal decisions to the public.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Joe Hernandez
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
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