The first bill introduced this year in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives had nothing to do with the border wall, the government shutdown, the troops in Syria, or other issues that have dominated recent headlines. Instead, the “For the People Act”—or HR 1—is devoted to government integrity, covering voting rights, campaign finance reform, and ethical standards. Among many potentially controversial and complex provisions, there is one that stands out for its simplicity: requiring the adoption of an ethics code for the U.S. Supreme Court. The fact that SCOTUS justices are the only nine judges in the United States who do not have a written code of ethics is not just a symbolic problem, but a very meaningful one that requires just this sort of legislative solution.

Democrats have repeatedly introduced legislation requiring the Supreme Court to adopt an ethics code, but the previous Republican House leadership never allowed it to come to the floor. Although the confirmation of Supreme Court justices has become increasingly rancorous, judicial ethics ought to be a nonpartisan issue. A written code would apply equally to liberal and conservative justices, thus covering Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s disparagement of then-candidate Donald Trump in the months before the 2016 election as well as Justice Samuel Alito’s appearance at a fundraiser for the right-leaning Claremont Institute. Both incidents would have violated specific ethics rules for every other U.S. judge, but not for the justices. Ginsburg eventually apologized for what she called “ill-advised” comments and promised to be “more circumspect” in the future; Alito declined to comment.

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