When the Supreme Court introduced a written code of ethics for itself last week, it took a small but helpful step in the direction of democracy renovation. But a bolder step awaits.
A cross-ideological supermajority of Americans thinks it’s time for Supreme Court justices to have term limits. The justices themselves could help us get there.
First, a word about what’s good in the code of ethics. Critics have noted the absence of an enforcement mechanism, but spelling out bedrock norms and publicly recommitting to them helps to rebuild the guardrails of democracy. Much like the “Chicago Principles” of free expression, the court’s code of ethics doesn’t say much that’s new. But saying things out loud matters. Publicly pledging matters.
To put it mildly, our culture is confused about basic norms for good behavior. Broadcasting those norms explicitly helps to change that. Demonstrated adherence will matter even more.
A healthy democracy cannot operate on enforcement mechanisms alone. The only way to stop sliding into a proliferation of investigative and enforcement functions — and further investigations of the investigators — is to establish robust norms for good behavior that people adhere to as a matter of their professional standing. I’m glad the court is willing to spell out its norms and take a public pledge.