Bloomberg Law
Feb. 7, 2023, 5:12 PM

American Bar Association Urges Ethics Code for US Supreme Court

Lydia Wheeler
Lydia Wheeler
Senior Reporter

The American Bar Association wants the US Supreme Court to adopt a judicial ethics code.

Meeting in New Orleans on Monday, the group’s 591-member policy-making body passed a resolution urging the high court to adopt ethics rules similar to the code of conduct all other federal judges must follow.

Concern over public perception of the court seemed to prompt the ABA action. The resolution said the absence of a clearly articulated, binding code of ethics for the justices threatens the legitimacy of the court.

“If the legitimacy of the Court is diminished, the legitimacy of all our courts and our entire judicial system is imperiled,” the resolution said.

Federal judges on lower courts across the country are bound by the Code of Judicial Conduct, which maps out rules for how judges should conduct themselves on and off the bench. The code says judges should avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all activities, refrain from political activity, and recuse themselves from a case when their impartiality might be reasonably questioned because of financial interests or personal bias.

Democrats have long called on the Supreme Court to adopt an ethics code. The House Judiciary Committee advanced a bill in May that would have forced the court to develop its own policy, but that legislation stalled before the full House.

In his 2011 annual report, Chief Justice John Roberts said it’s a misconception that the judicial code of conduct applies only to lower federal courts. He said the justices consult the code in assessing ethical obligations and it’s not their only source of guidance.

“They may also seek advice from the Court’s Legal Office, from the Judicial Conference’s Committee on Codes of Conduct, and from their colleagues,” he said. “For that reason, the Court has had no reason to adopt the Code of Conduct as its definitive source of ethical guidance.”

The Supreme Court, however, has dealt with a wave of ethics concerns in recent months and public opinion plummeted after it overturned the constitutional right to abortion in June.

A Marquette Law School poll last month found that public approval of the court had jumped up to 47% after hitting 38% in June, but that’s still well below the 66% approval rating the court held in September 2020.

The Supreme Court press office didn’t respond to a request for comment on the ABA resolution, which also urged federal, state, local, and territorial bar associations to adopt their own resolutions pushing the high court to take action.

—With assistance from Kimberly Robinson.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lydia Wheeler in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Seth Stern at; John Crawley at