Poll: Majority of voters support ethics code for SCOTUS justices

 October 1, 2023

Controversy continues to swirl around the United States Supreme Court amid questions about the ethical obligations to which justices ought to be bound and allegations of questionable conduct, and, according to a new survey, most voters would like to see new, formalized measures put into place, as Politico reports.

Insights into the public's perception of the court come from a new poll conducted by the outlet in conjunction with Morning Consult, which revealed that roughly 75% of participants are in favor of an ethics code for those on the bench at the high court.

Shifting sands at SCOTUS

Justices at the Supreme Court are distinct from their lower-court colleagues in that they are not subject to a formal code of ethics.

This fact has received heightened attention amid recent investigative reports regarding potentially questionable trips and other perks accepted by Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Sonia Sotomayor in recent years.

Coming at a time when the panel has handed down a number of controversial decisions with which large swaths of the populace disagreed, there has been renewed interest in holding the justices to a more stringent standard of conduct.

As such, the Politico/Morning Consult survey asked voters which specific types of reforms they would like to see enacted, regardless of whether the political will exists in Congress to pass any such proposals.

Voters weigh in

Politico noted that support for a binding code of ethics for high court justices is extremely high, with 75% of all voters favoring such a measure.

The bipartisan nature of the outcome was also noteworthy, in that 81% of Democrats signaled their support of such a move, as did 72% of Republicans, and 69% of those identifying as independents.

Several other floated reforms received significant support from respondents, with 68% saying they would support term limits at the high court, 67% favoring televised oral arguments, and 66% signaling support for an age limit on jurists' ability to serve.

Notably, there were some changes that did not garner that type of widespread support, including the notion of expanding the court – often championed by the left – which garnered the endorsement of just 44% of participants.

Kagan says yes

At least one of the current justices at the high court has gone public with her support of an ethics code to which she and her colleagues would be subject, as NBC News recently reported.

Speaking to an audience at Notre Dame Law School last month, Justice Elena Kagan said that a set of formalized rules would be “a good thing” and that for justices to agree to such a code would go a long way toward persuading the public that they “were adhering to the highest standards of conduct.”

Kagan did, however, note that, given the unique role of the U.S. Supreme Court at the pinnacle of the country's legal system, there are concerns that its justices cannot be bound by quite the same code of ethics that applies to lower court judges.

Though some legislators in Congress have put forth their own ideas on a possible ethics code for the justices, progress there appears unlikely, and though the high court could still take action to implement such rules on its own, it remains to be seen whether the rest of Kagan's colleagues share her willing take on the concept.


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