The Judicial Conference—a national policymaking body for the federal courts which is holding its annual meeting today—should implement a comprehensive prohibition on all federal judges and Supreme Court Justices owning or trading individual securities and develop a strong code of conduct for the Supreme Court.
In a letter sent today, CREW urges the Judicial Conference to act swiftly to close ethical loopholes and address widespread perceptions of ethical impropriety throughout the judiciary which threaten our democracy and rule of law. Last fall, the Wall Street Journal reported that 131 federal judges violated the law by hearing cases in which they had a financial interest in one of the parties, and 61 judges actively traded shares related to a party to an ongoing case.
The Supreme Court is also grappling with ethical challenges, and urgently needs a binding code of conduct. Two currently-serving Supreme Court justices own individual stocks, and since 2015, each of those two individuals has participated in at least one case in which they have a material financial interest. Additionally, concerns about Supreme Court justices’ impartiality and recusal obligations have arisen—especially around Justice Clarence Thomas’ ruling on cases related to the Capitol insurrection, given his wife Ginni Thomas’ deep involvement in matters related to it in the days leading up to and on January 6.
There is unfortunately no shortage of examples of ethical violations by those who are supposed to be arbiters of justice at the highest levels. Until there is a ban on judicial stock ownership as well as a comprehensive code of conduct for Supreme Court justices that comprehensively addresses conflicts of interest, confidence in our judicial system and the legitimacy of the rule of law will be seriously compromised.