For the first time in its history, the Supreme Court of the United States has published its own Code of Conduct. The Supreme Court created the Code of Conduct in response to several high profile controversies involving several Justices, notably Clarence Thomas’ relationship with billionaire Harlan Crow, where Crow provided Thomas with free luxury trips, private jet travel, and real estate dealings that benefited Thomas and his family. In light of these revelations, public concerns that the Justices have not been forthcoming about outside financial incentives and other conflicts of interest that could impact their judicial impartiality have grown. The Supreme Court noted that they already abide by unwritten rules and principles that they have “long regarded as governing our conduct”, but in response to public pressure, the Court explained that their written Code of Conduct was meant to eliminate any “misunderstanding” that the Justices “regard themselves as unrestricted by any ethics rules.”
The Supreme Court’s new official Code of Conduct is comprised of five canons: (1) uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary, (2) avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all activities, (3) perform the duties of office fairly, impartially, and diligently, (4) engage in extrajudicial activities that are consistent with the obligations of the judicial office, and (5) refrain from political activity. These canons offer the Justices guidance on how to conduct themselves ethically, highlighting how to eliminate any improprieties and conflicts of interest and to promote integrity and impartial judicial conduct.
Professional codes of conduct are important guideposts for any profession. At its founding in 1847, the American Medical Association created the world’s first national code of medical ethics. The AMA Code of Medical Ethics is widely considered to be the most comprehensive guide for physicians who strive to practice ethically. Like the Supreme Court’s Code of Conduct, the AMA Code also provides guidance with regards to conflicts of interest. Opinion 11.2.2, “Conflicts of Interest in Patient Care” states that “[u]nder no circumstances may physicians place their own financial interests above the welfare of their patients” and that when “economics interests” conflict with that of the patient, “patient welfare takes priority.” The grounding of the Code, in all of its guidance regarding integrity and conflicts, rests with the fundamental principle that physicians should “regard responsibility to the patient as paramount” relative to all other concerns and interests.
To further explore the AMA Code of Medical Ethics, please visit AMAethicscode.org.
Published on January 3, 2024