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Supreme Court adopts code of conduct in ethics review

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court announced Monday that it has adopted what it calls a new code of conduct following allegations of ethics violations.

The court published a 14-page document including five rules of conduct as well as lengthy comments.

“The undersigned judges promulgate this Code of Conduct to succinctly set forth and bring together in one place the ethical rules and principles that guide the conduct of the members of the Court,” the judges said in an attached statement.

Most of the rules set out in the code are not themselves new, the statement said, but the lack of a published code “has led in recent years to a misunderstanding that the judges of this court, unlike all other jurists in this country consider themselves not to be subject to any ethical rules.

Among other things, the code requires judges to “maintain the integrity and independence of the judiciary” and “avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all their activities.”

The court has been under pressure to act since a series of reports raised questions about judges’ compliance with the rules.

Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee have proposed legislation that would impose a new ethics code on the courts, with lawmakers saying they are being forced to act because of judges’ inability to do so.

Although Supreme Court justices follow some of the same rules that are imposed on lower court judges, such as the requirement to 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 reaffirm” their commitment to ethical principles – an announcement that failed to assuage critics.

The recent scrutiny was prompted by an April ProPublica article that found Justice Clarence Thomas took trips funded by Republican billionaire Harlan Crow without disclosing them. ProPublica then reported in June that Justice Samuel Alito also failed to report a 2008 trip to Alaska.

Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee was scheduled to vote on whether to issue subpoenas against Crow and conservative legal activist Leonard Leo, but the vote was abruptly postponed.

In recent months, several justices have expressed support for the court’s adoption of 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 allegations of ethics violations have focused disproportionately on conservative judges. They said Democrats want to delegitimize the Supreme Court because it has a 6-3 conservative majority and has issued several decisions that have infuriated liberals, including overturning the ruling. Roe v. Wade on abortion rights last year.

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