Bush-appointed federal judge calls for Supreme Court ethics code

Bush-appointed federal judge calls for Supreme Court ethics code
The U.S. Supreme Court in 2021, Wikimedia Commons

Between the likely demise of Roe v. Wade, Ginni Thomas’ efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election results, Christine Blasey Ford’s sexual misconduct allegations against Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and extreme politicization by the likes of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, former President Donald Trump and the Federalist Society, the U.S. Supreme Court’s reputation has suffered considerably.

A Yahoo News/YouGov poll released during the first half of May found that 50% of U.S. voters have little or no confidence in the High Court. A Morning Consult poll released on May 8 found that only 49% of Americans trust the High Court. And the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s editorial board, in a scathing editorial published on May 15, lamented that more and more Americans have come to view the Supreme Court as “political hacks in black robes.”

Now, a well-known federal judge appointed by President George W. Bush in 2001 — Senior U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton — is calling for an ethics code for the U.S. Supreme Court.

At a recent conference in Chicago that was hosted by the National Judiciary College, Walton observed, “We’ve had some judges who’ve been engaged in atrocious behavior, sexual assault, sexual intimidation and other misconduct. And many times, we haven’t been proactive in punishing them and sanctioning them for what they've done.”

Walton believes it is “unimaginable that we have a segment of our federal judiciary that’s not subject to an ethics code.”

Walton told the Washington Post, “As a court system — federal, state and otherwise — we are under scrutiny and under attack. And I think there’s an attempt by some to undermine our independence. And because of that, I think all judges should be subject to a code of ethics.”

The federal judge lamented that when “judges aren’t held accountable, it does affect the respect for the judiciary.”

Washington Post reporter Spencer S. Hsu notes that the conference in Chicago “came at a turbulent time for the judiciary, as President Biden signed legislation this month requiring greater disclosure of judges’ potential financial conflicts, and the House Judiciary Committee advanced a bill to require the Supreme Court to adopt an ethics code.”

“In March,” Hsu notes, “many legal ethicists expressed shock at revelations that Virginia ‘Ginni’ Thomas, married to Justice Clarence Thomas, repeatedly texted White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to pursue overturning the 2020 presidential election as President Donald Trump simultaneously threatened to challenge the results at the Supreme Court.”

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