On Friday, June 7, 2024, Charles Gardner Geyh, a professor of law at Indiana University, published an article on The Conversation examining ethics questions faced by U.S. Supreme Court justices.

In his article, Geyh explores why concerns about Supreme Court ethics seem more prevalent today than in the past. While accusations of misconduct against justices are not new, dating back to an impeachment attempt in 1804, Geyh notes they have become more frequent in recent years.

He identifies five key factors that have contributed to this trend. First, societal standards of what is considered ethical conduct have evolved over time. While some past practices like hearing cases a justice previously ruled on lower courts would be unacceptable today.

Secondly, the legal theory of legal realism emerged in the 1930s, challenging the assumption that justices are impartial and not influenced by personal biases. This planted the seeds for greater scrutiny of potential conflicts of interest.

Thirdly, ethics issues have become increasingly politicized and used as a political weapon. Geyh points to examples from the 1960s/70s where both liberals and conservatives leveraged misconduct allegations for political gain, depending on whether they supported or opposed a given justice’s ideological leanings.

At the same time, judicial codes of conduct proliferated following these controversies, emerging in every state and federal circuit court by the 1970s. However, Geyh notes the Supreme Court was a notable exception, only adopting its first code of conduct last year.

Finally, Geyh argues some modern justices have cultivated celebrity status and embraced political alignment, fueling doubts about impartiality. With no longstanding culture of ethics enforcement, questions around justices’ conduct have intensified without sufficient accountability.

In sum, Geyh’s article analyzes why ethics issues facing Supreme Court justices today, while not new per se, have become especially prominent and complex in the modern legal and political landscape.

 

 

Source: The Conversation