“No man shall be a judge in his own cause.” For four centuries, that has been one of the most well-established principles of Anglo-American law. Yet U.S. Supreme Court justices are a striking exception. In a letter just released by Alliance for Justice, more than a hundred law professors are calling on Congress to do something about it. Rep. Christopher Murphy (D-Conn.) is proposing to do just that and is seeking co-sponsors for a bill that would extend ethics regulation to the justices.
Recent events have again drawn attention to an anomaly in the U.S. approach to judicial ethics. Unlike any other judge, each individual who sits on the Supreme Court has unreviewable authority to determine whether he or she should withdraw from hearing a case for ethical reasons. The governing federal statute requires recusal whenever a justice’s impartiality “might reasonably be questioned.” But it provides no oversight mechanism, short of impeachment, if a justice unreasonably declines to withdraw.