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The US Supreme Court has adopted its first-ever code of conduct, a landmark move following reports about some justices’ undisclosed relationships with powerful figures that sparked a fraught debate around oversight of the country’s most powerful bench.
The court on Monday released the code, which it said was “substantially derived” from guidelines applied to other US federal judges.
“The absence of a Code . . . has led in recent years to the misunderstanding that the Justices of this Court, unlike all other jurists in this country, regard themselves as unrestricted by any ethics rules,” the court said. “To dispel this misunderstanding, we are issuing this Code, which largely represents a codification of principles that we have long regarded as governing our conduct.”
The rules come after ProPublica, the investigative journalism site, reported earlier this year that conservative justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito had failed to disclose gifts and luxury travel for years.
The revelations plunged the court into an ethical crisis and triggered calls for the adoption of a code of conduct from critics who argued justices had faced virtually no oversight for decades.
The justices in question have defended their actions. Alito in June said there was “no obligation” to recuse himself from cases involving Paul Singer, a prominent conservative fund manager who has won favourable rulings from the Supreme Court, after joining him on a luxury fishing trip to an Alaskan salmon lodge in 2008.
ProPublica also revealed details of Thomas’s close friendship with Republican political donor Harlan Crow, including the justice travelling on the billionaire’s private jet and joining him on holidays in Indonesia and his Adirondacks estate in upstate New York. Thomas has denied any wrongdoing in connection with the trips.
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