John Roberts, the Chief Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, evidently adheres to the belief that Supreme Court Justices are generally above substantive reproach and should self-monitor instead of adhering to an outside code of ethics. However, the actions of Ginni Thomas, the wife of Justice Clarence Thomas, have Americans calling for the court to conform to a code of ethics. Ginni was basically in the thick of the failed coup, and yet Justice Thomas didn’t recuse himself from a case connected to what happened and specifically dealing with whether the House committee that investigated the Capitol riot would get certain Trump records.
The House Judiciary Committee approved a bill in 2022 that would have held Justices to a code of ethics, although Republicans predictably opposed it, and the measure wasn’t implemented. That development meant a group of organizations were left to push for the imposition of ethical standards for the court.
Sarah Turberville, who leads the Constitution Project at the Project on Government Oversight, said her group’s mission was for the Supreme Court to take on “stronger ethical standards” for “self-preservation.” “[The Justices] are blind to the fact that the public’s faith in the institution is waning, and the public’s faith is the only thing that gives the court’s ruling any force of law,” she told a publication called theGrio.
Public opinion of the court has struggled, poll data has shown. If “a Justice knows or should know that a party to a [case] supported the Justice’s nomination and that that support would cause a reasonable observer to doubt that the Justice could rule impartially, then we think the Justice needs to step aside,” Turberville said.
The absence of a code of conduct, Turberville said, “diminishes the public’s faith in the court as an institution [and] as a fair and impartial arbiter of the law and of justice.”
Donald Sherman, a top figure at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), wrote an op-ed in which he insisted that Justice Thomas should have stepped away from the case involving his wife, even tangentially. Such instances would call for Thomas to recuse himself.
Sherman detailed how Mrs. Thomas was in touch with the chief of staff for Donald Trump, Mark Meadows, amid the failed coup:
‘Ginni Thomas had been communicating with Mark Meadows and other senior White House aides about overturning the election. Her communication with the White House, and particularly communications about her outreach to that effect, could have been among the documents at issue.’
Sherman said that the court’s Justices think “they’re above” rules:
‘That’s the only logical reason… I think they view themselves as being the best arbiters of whether there is a conflict or whether there is an ethical issue and don’t feel like they should be bound by any independent enforcement structure.’
The American Bar Association has called for the Justices to implement their own ethical rules comparable to the rules that other federal judges use. Thus far, the rules remain unimposed. Other ideas for addressing some of the concerns around the Court have included expanding the number of Justices on the bench, something that also remains, well, undone, even as the decisions from the Supreme Court’s current roster of judges have wide-ranging impacts, like on people who are or may become pregnant around the United States. With individual states now able to impose their own rules on accessing abortion — or not, some individuals are in danger. A lawsuit was recently filed in Texas from people who’d been pregnant and faced serious health complications — dangers that still saw them delayed from getting abortion care amid worry from medical staff about potentially steep consequences for performing prohibited abortions, no matter the exemptions for cases with dangerous health situations.
Image: Gage Skidmore/ Creative Commons
Gloria Christie is a political journalist for the liberal online newspaper The Bipartisan Report. Find her here on Facebook. Or at Three White Lions, her book written in her own unique style with a twist of humor on Amazon Kindle Vella and the Gloria Christie Three White Lions podcast on Apple, Spotify, Amazon Music, etc. Christie’s Mueller Report Adventures In Bite-Sizes a real-life compelling spy mystery (in progress).