Press Releases

Statement On Supreme Court Ethics Legislation

The New York City Bar Association (City Bar) strongly supports the bill just introduced into the Congress to limit lavish gifts to judges and justices of the United States. This is a first step in urgently needed ethics reform.

A year ago, on August 21, 2023, the City Bar issued a statement about the need for immediate ethics reform at the Supreme Court. We pointed to then-recent disclosures of receipt by certain members of the Court of lavish gifts, lodging, travel, entertainment, vacations, real estate transactions and benefits to their family members. We noted that confidence in the Court “is at an all-time low.” Since then, if anything, further disclosures have caused confidence in the Court to decline even further.

Last August, we asked the Court voluntarily to adopt a set of ethics standards that are as rigorous as those governing the conduct of other federal judges and that incorporates a credible regime of oversight and enforcement. On November 13, 2023, the Supreme Court issued a Code of Conduct that falls woefully short of those goals. The Code provides that justices of the Supreme Court “should” – but need not – follow standards that are required for lower court judges. The Code lacks any enforcement mechanism at all. In our August 2023 statement, we said that if the Supreme Court did not act immediately, it was “essential that Congress act promptly to address this crisis.” Sadly, the Supreme Court has not met the moment; its Code of Conduct is neither mandatory nor enforceable and it is time for Congress to act.

Accordingly, we endorse the reform bill now being placed before Congress. But the bill is just a step in the right direction. It does not address ethical standards other than gifts and, in particular, is silent on the pressing subject of recusals. It offers an enforcement mechanism that is a good initial effort, but which we believe can be made more robust. The City Bar’s Task Force on the Rule of Law is addressing these problems now and will issue a report on the issues in short order. In the meanwhile, we are grateful to the authors of this bill for thoughtfully addressing many of the problems with current law and are pleased to endorse it.

About the Association
The mission of the New York City Bar Association, which was founded in 1870 and has 23,000 members, is to equip and mobilize a diverse legal profession to practice with excellence, promote reform of the law, and uphold the rule of law and access to justice in support of a fair society and the public interest in our community, our nation, and throughout the world.