Senior U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton said at a recent Chicago conference that it was “unimaginable that we have a segment of our federal judiciary that’s not subject to an ethics code,” apparently adding his voice to the list of those behind the idea of imposing an ethics code for the Supreme Court.
Various ethics concerns have recently bogged down the court, ranging from the involvement of Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife in pushes to overturn the 2020 presidential election outcome to the sexual harassment allegations against Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Despite Clarence’s wife Ginni’s involvement in pushes against Joe Biden’s win, Clarence has participated in court proceedings related to the election — although he had a conflict of interest considering his wife had a stake in what transpired. “We’ve had some judges who’ve been engaged in atrocious behavior, sexual assault, sexual intimidation and other misconduct… And many times we haven’t been proactive in punishing them and sanctioning them for what they’ve done,” Walton — a George W. Bush appointee — remarked.
In an interview, Walton added:
‘Obviously when those things occur and judges aren’t held accountable, it does affect the respect for the judiciary… As a court system — federal, state and otherwise — we are under scrutiny and under attack. And I think there’s an attempt by some to undermine our independence. And because of that I think all judges should be subject to a code of ethics.’
The House Judiciary Committee has apparently already advanced a proposed piece of legislation that would require the adoption of an ethics code for U.S. Supreme Court members. Walton indicated that he had incidents in mind other than those involving the Thomases when pushing for judicial ethics standards — the incidents, he said, involved judges at lower levels of the judiciary. The ethics standards, Walton imagined, could be a proactive step for those involved with the judiciary to push back on attempts to unduly interfere with the judiciary’s operations. “I made those comments because I felt they were appropriate in order for the courts to ward off any attempts to undermine our independence or the credibility of our institutions,” as the judge put it.
Many observers have been seriously concerned about the ties held by Clarence Thomas’s wife, Ginni, to certain right-wing political efforts. On MSNBC, Joyce Vance — who served as a U.S. Attorney for most of former President Barack Obama’s time in office — pushed the prospect of Ginni getting interviewed by the House committee investigating the Capitol riot and the Justice Department. “We live in this real world where there is sensitivity surrounding Supreme Court Justices and their families. And I think it will be difficult, quite frankly, for people to navigate these issues, where in fact it should be simple. Because if Ginni Thomas was anyone else with the sort of knowledge she’s displayed on multiple issues, investigators would sit down and have a chat with her, not necessarily that she’s a target for investigation — but they would want to know what she knows,” as Vance commented.