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May 09, 2023

Statement of ABA President Deborah Enix-Ross Re: Supreme Court ethics code

WASHINGTON, May 9, 2023 — The American Bar Association recognizes the need for the Supreme Court to adopt a binding code of judicial ethics and urges the justices to act now.

While an independent judiciary is the cornerstone of the rule of law, public support for that independence relies on public confidence in the legitimacy of the courts. People must believe judges act ethically according to standards firmly grounded in integrity and impartiality.

In an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll released in April, just 37% of respondents said they have a great deal or good amount of confidence in the Court, while 62% said the opposite. And a 2022 Gallup poll found that only 40 percent of respondents approved of the job the Supreme Court was doing, the lowest since polling began in 2001.

The Supreme Court exercises appellate authority over all federal courts. The absence of a clearly articulated, binding code of ethics for the justices of the Supreme Court imperils public confidence in our courts, which in turn undermines the legitimacy of the American judicial system. The NPR survey revealed a steep decline over the past year in the percentage of Americans who express “a great deal” or “fair amount” of trust in the entire judicial branch of the federal government, from 67% in 2020 to 54% today.

Other federally appointed judges are bound to a code of ethics that includes enforcement mechanisms. Justices of the United States Supreme Court are not.

As our democratic institutions and the rule of law are under attack, we need our courts to be trusted. The Supreme Court must act and develop its own binding code of conduct.

The ABA is the largest voluntary association of lawyers in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law.