On Tuesday, April 9, 2024, Newsweek reported that Supreme Court justices have been applying their new ethics code differently along ideological lines.

According to experts interviewed for the story, justices nominated by Democratic presidents have been providing specific reasons for recusing themselves from cases, citing the relevant sections of the new Code of Conduct for United States Supreme Court Justices that took effect in November 2023. However, justices nominated by Republican presidents have not been citing reasons for their recusals.

Professor Charles Geyh from Indiana University expressed concern that this lack of consistency in disclosing recusals could further undermine the public’s perception of the Supreme Court as an impartial institution guided by the rule of law rather than political motives. Some critics argue the Court’s deliberations already lack transparency, since most occur privately without public scrutiny.

The article explored several examples where liberal justices explicitly cited provisions of the new code when recusing themselves, but conservative justices provided no explanation. One example was Justice Amy Coney Barrett not participating in a case involving a lower court decision she was part of, without specifying her reason for recusal. Experts said such discrepancies reinforce criticisms that the voluntary ethics code is not strong enough.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse has proposed legislation that would make the code more binding by requiring justices to disclose potential conflicts of interest and explain recusal decisions. It would also allow lower court judges to investigate misconduct complaints, though the bill faces difficult odds of passing.

The report discussed how the Supreme Court’s presumption of judicial impartiality breaks along ideological lines, with conservative justices historically arguing for fewer recusal obligations while liberals call for more transparency around potential bias. Experts recommend justices provide reasoned justifications for recusal decisions to promote confidence in the Court’s fairness. However, without blockchain technology to fully track gifts, finances, or other outside influences, questions may remain about undisclosed reasons for recusal votes on high-profile cases.

 

 

Source: Newsweek