Finally! The Supreme Court has been acting like a troop of freebooters, running loose and without any ethics to limit their greed, but now in a surprise announcement, they have released a set of rules they’re supposed to follow.
The absence of an ethics code has given the impression “that the Justices of this Court, unlike all other jurists in this country, regard themselves as unrestricted by any ethics rules,” said the statement, signed by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and his eight colleagues. “To dispel this misunderstanding, we are issuing this Code, which largely represents a codification of principles that we have long regarded as governing our conduct.”
Except…there’s nothing there. They wrote down a set of things that general public expects would limit the behavior of justices, but they’re so vague that they don’t do much to regulate any constraints — they’re so wide open that they ultimately let individuals do whatever they feel like.
An unsigned “commentary” accompanying the code indicates that justices will continue to make their own decisions about recusals and speaking engagements. It says justices should “consider whether doing so would create an appearance of impropriety in the minds of reasonable members of the public.”
The code does not squarely confront questions about lavish trips and gifts that some justices have received from billionaire friends, or questions about recusals.
I get it. “The code is more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules,” to quote the movie pirate Hector Barbossa. It’s got no teeth.
Supreme Court justices stung by controversies over the court’s ethics pledged Monday to follow a broad code of conduct promoting “integrity and impartiality,” but without a way to enforce its standards against those who fall short.
I think we need to stop thinking of Supreme Court justices as in any way trustworthy. To quote another movie pirate, Jack Sparrow, they’re all thinking “I’m dishonest, and a dishonest man you can always trust to be dishonest. Honestly, it’s the honest ones you want to watch out for, because you can never predict when they’re going to do something incredibly stupid.”
Fair enough. I trust the Supreme Court justices to be dishonest thieves. It’s unfortunate, though, that none of them have any swashbuckling charisma to compensate.