From The Democrat and Chronicle.com:
Fresh off of efforts to hold the legislative branch accountable, Rep. Louise Slaughter has turned her eye to the judicial branch.
The Fairport congresswoman, author of the pending STOCK act preventing insider trading in Congress, is among lawmakers and judicial watchdogs urging the Supreme Court to adopt a formal code of conduct.
The call is timely, as the court is preparing this month to hear a legal challenge to President Obama’s health care reform — a case in which two justices have been asked to recuse themselves: Elena Kagan because of her work as solicitor general in the Obama administration, and Clarence Thomas, because his wife has worked with political groups that opposed the law. Because there’s no code, the decisions are left entirely up to the individual justices.
Federal judges in district and appeals courts must comply with formal guidelines that mandate they cannot engage in political activity, assist in private fundraising or take part in activities that give even the appearance of impropriety. But the nation’s nine senior justices are exempt from the code.
Chief Justice John Roberts says the the judges voluntarily abide by the rules, but that isn’t always evident. In recent years, Justices Antonin Scalia and Thomas, for example, attended a political strategizing retreat held by David and Charles Koch, high rollers in the world of conservative politics. Justice Samuel Alito has spoken at fundraising dinners forAmerican Spectatormagazine. Were such actions taken by lower-court judges, they’d be subject to official sanction.
Law experts have urged Congress to adopt legislation to strengthen the ethical guidelines for the high court. It needn’t go that far. The court should, as Slaughter suggests, take matters into its own hands by determining and publicizing its own code of conduct, then conducting itself with sufficient transparency that the public is ensured such code is being closely followed.