Justice Kagan Calls for New Code of Conduct for Supreme Court
WASHINGTON — Justice Elena Kagan is calling for a “code of conduct” for the Supreme Court in a departure from the position held by most of her colleagues.
She announced her support for the code of conduct in a speech at Notre Dame Law School Friday, the same day a media organization published more revelations of alleged conflicts of interest for Justice Clarence Thomas.
Kagan did not mention Thomas or any other member of the Supreme Court, only that a code of conduct would “go far in persuading other people that we were adhering to the highest standards of conduct.”
ProPublica and other media outlets reported that wealthy businessmen gave Thomas luxury vacations and private plane rides, as well as enlisted his help to raise money for conservative causes. The donors behind the gifts and fundraising efforts either have had — or could have — business before the Supreme Court, according to the media reports.
The allegations against Thomas, as well as Justice Samuel Alito, prompted Democrats in the Senate to introduce the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal and Transparency Act earlier this year.
“The word unprecedented is starting to lose its meaning as we see more and more questionable behavior from justices,” said Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., who co-authored the bill. “And public trust and confidence in the Supreme Court is at an all-time low.”
It would require the Supreme Court to establish ethics rules for justices and law clerks that could be enforced by Congress. The rules would set disclosure requirements for potential conflicts of interest as well as gifts, travel and income they receive.
Chief Justice John Roberts has resisted the proposal, saying strict rules imposed by Congress could prevent the Supreme Court from hearing important but controversial constitutional issues. He also questioned whether congressional oversight would violate the separation of powers required by the Constitution.
He said he might be in favor of a new code of ethics for the Supreme Court but that it should be done internally, “consistent with our status as an independent branch of government and the Constitution’s separation of powers.”
Kagan addressed differences of opinion on new ethics rules when she said there were some “good-faith disagreements or concerns” among the justices.
She added that “it would be a good thing for the court to [adopt a new code of ethics].”
The latest ProPublica report on Thomas said he twice attended an annual event for donors to the conservative political Stand Together network organized by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch.
His support of Stand Together “puts Thomas in the extraordinary position of having served as a fundraising draw for a network that has brought cases before the Supreme Court, including one of the most closely watched of the upcoming term.”
The case ProPublica mentioned refers to Consumer Financial Protection Bureau v. Community Financial Services Association, which the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear Oct. 3.
ProPublica said that if the conservative plaintiffs win, the ruling could limit “federal agencies’ power to issue regulations in areas ranging from the environment to labor rights to consumer protection.”