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New ethics rules for judges

Federal judges — including Supreme Court Justices — got new ethical rules on Tuesday, as the U.S. Judicial Conference approved a series of changes in the existing Code of Conduct. The code is not binding on members of the Supreme Court, but they generally follow it.  The revisions are to take effect July 1.

Among the changes adopted by the Conference is a definition, for the first time, of judges’ duty to avoid “the appearance of impropriety.”

Under the new Canon 2, “an appearance of impropriety occurs when reasonable minds, with knowledge of all the relevant circumstances disclosed by a reasonable inquiry, would conclude that the judge’s honesty, integrity, impartiality, temperament, or fitness to serve as a judge is impaired.”

A news release describing this and other actions of the Conference can be found here.  The news release provides the Internet addresses where the existing Code and the revised Code may be found.

Third Circuit Chief Judge Anthony J. Scirica, who heads the Conference’s Executive Committee, said the changes were not prompted by any activities of a specific judge, but rather were an attempt simply to update the Code since the last revision in 1992.

Among other revisions, the Code now contains two additional “forms of impermissible influence” that federal judges are to avoid — political and financial. Previously, the Code referred only to family and social influences as impermissible.  In addition, the new Code includes an expanded test for when a judge should avoid improprieties in their “personal conduct.”

The Conference also voted to ask Congress to create 63 new federal judgeships — 12 at the Court of Appeals level, and 51 for the District Courts.