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Justices reportedly can’t even agree among themselves on ethics

The latest report on the Supreme Court’s ethical failings is particularly embarrassing. And the court, or some elements within it, appears to understand that.


You’d think that the question of whether to have an ethics code might gain consensus on an otherwise bitterly divided Supreme Court. But even that thought appears too hopeful.

The Washington Post reported Thursday that the justices have long been discussing, but can’t come to agreement on, a code of conduct.

Readers of this blog are aware of the court effectively operating on an ethical honor system — unlike judges at lower federal courts, who are bound by a code. But it’s especially embarrassing that the justices apparently have been debating the issue among themselves for years to no avail.

The Post reports that the prospect of adopting an ethics code “remains an active topic at the court” but that there’s “no timeline for the justices to act.”

I mean, really, what’s the rush? Don’t hurt yourselves.

The news comes amid increasing pressure for the unpopular tribunal to adopt a binding code, with Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., introducing a bill on the matter this week, the latest legislative attempt to impose some appearance of order at the court.

There’s one thing about this new reporting that seems particularly significant. And that’s the fact that we are learning about the cloistered court’s internal deliberations on the matter. Perhaps the court, or some elements within it, understands that the ethical status quo is absurd and wants to give the public some assurance. (Of course, if it doesn’t lead to anything, then the court just winds up looking worse for failing to accomplish what should be an uncontroversial task.)

Ultimately, the justices deigning to bind themselves to ethical standards is a pathetically low hurdle to clear. Even then, we’ll believe it when we see it.