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Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Why Won’t John Roberts Accept an Ethics Code for Supreme Court Justices?

Steven Lubet
Slate.com
Originally posted January 16, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

Chief Justice John Roberts addressed the anomaly of the missing ethics code in his 2011 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary, acknowledging that the lower courts’ code is a good “starting point” for ethics inquiries. Nonetheless, he asserted that there is “no reason” to adopt a SCOTUS code because members of his court consult a wide variety of other sources for guidance. In addition, Roberts noted that current iterations of the judicial code do “not adequately answer some of the ethical considerations unique to the Supreme Court,” and that “no compilation of ethical rules can guarantee integrity.”

The chief justice’s observations are all reasonable, but they do not begin to justify the absence of a Supreme Court code. Nearly all of his explanations apply with equal force to every other court in the U.S., and yet those courts have, without exception, adopted written codes. It is true, of course, that no “compilation” of rules can guarantee compliance, but the same could be said for all other codes, ranging from the Bill of Rights to the Ten Commandments. He is right that existing judicial codes do not address issues “unique to the Supreme Court,” but that is why the proposed legislation allows “provisions that are applicable only” to SCOTUS justices.

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