WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday announced it has adopted what it called a new code of conduct following allegations of ethics lapses.
The court issued a 14-page document that included five canons of conduct in addition to lengthy commentary.
“The undersigned justices are promulgating this Code of Conduct to set out succinctly and gather in one place the ethics rules and principles that guide the conduct of the Members of the Court,” the justices said in an attached statement.
Most of the rules are not new, the statement said, but the lack of a published code “has led in recent years to the misunderstanding that the justices of this court, unlike all other jurists in this country, regard themselves as unrestricted by any ethics rules,” the statement added.
Among other things the code requires justices to “uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary” and “avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all activities.”
The court has been under pressure to act ever since a series of reports raised questions about whether justices were following the rules.
Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee have proposed legislation that would impose a new ethics code on the court, with lawmakers saying they are being forced to act because of the justices’ failure to do so.
Although Supreme Court justices follow some of the same rules that are imposed on lower court judges, such as a requirement that they file annual financial disclosure reports, they are not bound by the code of conduct that applies to other judges.
The justices issued a statement in April saying they “reaffirm and restate” their commitment to ethics principles — an announcement that failed to quell the criticism.
The recent scrutiny was prompted by an April article by ProPublica, which said Justice Clarence Thomas took trips funded by Republican billionare Harlan Crow without disclosing them. ProPublica reported in June that Justice Samuel Alito similarly failed to report a trip to Alaska in 2008.
Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee was scheduled to vote on issuing subpoenas for Crow and conservative legal activist Leonard Leo, but the vote was abruptly postponed.
In recent months, several justices have indicated support for the court adopting its own code. Alito questioned whether Congress would have the legal authority to impose one on a separate branch of government.
Republicans have complained that claims of ethics lapses have disproportionately focused on conservative judges. They have said Democrats want to delegitimize the Supreme Court because it has a 6-3 conservative majority that has issued several rulings that have enraged liberals, including its 2022 ruling that rolled back the abortion rights landmark Roe v. Wade.