Justice Elena Kagan calls for Supreme Court ethics code

 September 23, 2023

Earlier this year, the left-leaning news outlet ProPublica accused Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of going on expensive vacations with wealthy Republican mega-donor Harlan Crow.

That resulted in Senate Democrats threatening to create new ethics rules for America's highest judicial body. While none of the justices initially voiced support for the idea, one of them just defected. 

Justice Elena Kagan says new ethics code would be "a good thing"

According to NBC News, Justice Elena Kagan told students during a speech at Notre Dame Law school on Friday that it would be "a good thing" to adopt a code of conduct for ethics.

In Kagan's view, such a code would help improve the Supreme Court's public image by suggesting that justices are "adhering to the highest standards of conduct."

The Obama appointee did acknowledge that given their position, there is a "legitimate concern" over whether she and her colleagues can simply adopt the same code of conduct which governs lower court judges.

Kagan disagrees with Justice Alito

Nevertheless, Kagan believed that a workable code could be crafted for the Supreme Court, declaring, "I hope we can make progress."

Kagan also took pains to stress that resistance to the suggestion has not been limited to a single justice, stressing, "I don’t want to suggest there’s like one holdout."

This is not the first time Kagan has addressed the issue, as last month she publicly disputed Justice Samuel Alito's claim that Congress is constitutionally barred from imposing an ethics code on the Supreme Court.

"Of course Congress can regulate various aspects of what the Supreme Court does," Kagan said, adding, "Our whole system is one of checks and balances."

Republicans complain of a double standard

Meanwhile, conservatives contend that the push for new ethics rules is motivated by partisan politics, with South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham recalling earlier this year how Democrats were never bothered by questionable behavior from the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

He pointed to their lack of outrage in 2019 when Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was given a $1 million award that she could donate to organizations of her choosing.

Nor did Democrats voice objections in 1998 when the liberal icon donated a signed copy of one of her decisions for the National Organization for Women to auction off at a fundraiser.

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