Fox News: OPINION: Americans don't trust the Supreme Court, but this helps the justices help themselves

An erosion of faith over the years includes public views of the Supreme Court

A healthy democracy requires trust: trust in leaders, trust in public institutions, and trust in systems. As our founders warned in the Federalist Papers, preserving America’s historically-rare democracy starts with citizens having faith in their government. But this trust is waning, and our fragile system is facing a crisis of confidence.

 Unfortunately, this erosion of faith over the years includes public views of the Supreme Court, resulting in all-time low confidence levels in this vital institution.  It is for this reason that we have come together across party lines to introduce the Supreme Court Code of Conduct Act. The bill is very straightforward—just three pages in length—and simply charges our highest justices with establishing and making public their own code of conduct and oversight structure. The bill is designed to help the court re-establish its reputation and the respect that it should have from all Americans, regardless of party affiliation or personal beliefs.

 Importantly, our bill does not prescribe what the code of conduct should look like – based on the separation of powers, we defer to the Court on that. Our bill simply requires the Court to establish its own rules within one year, publish them, and appoint someone to review concerns or complaints. This is not extreme; it would simply bring the Court into alignment with the structure governing judicial conduct across the nation.

 Virtually every judge in the country—whether in the state or the federal system—already follows a publicly available code of conduct. The Maine and Alaska state courts both have such codes; in fact, every state court across the nation has its own set of standards, as does the entire federal judicial system. All but the nine justices of the Supreme Court, that is.

The fundamental purpose for any judicial code of conduct is to reassure the public of the fairness and impartiality of those who serve and make decisions. For this reason, the core of every such code is that a judge must avoid impropriety, and just as importantly, avoid the mere appearance of it.

 That’s a very high standard that judges across the country hold themselves to, and it is an aspect of maintaining public confidence in the courts. We see no reason why the U.S. Supreme Court, the highest court in the country, should be held to a lower standard, or as it currently stands, no defined standard at all.

The American people want to know that there is a guidebook for occupying a seat on our nation’s highest court. The Supreme Court Code of Conduct Act will ensure that, and help rebuild the credibility gap that we have started to see in our highest judicial institution. The Supreme Court, uniquely in our three branches of government, is not elected by the people. The Court’s authority rests entirely upon its credibility and integrity. We are simply trying to help the justices help themselves and protect the Court’s reputation.

We urge our Senate and House colleagues to pass this legislation expeditiously. The nine Supreme Court justices are appointed for life and have enormous power over the lives of ordinary Americans. Asking them to publicly define the standards governing their conduct is common sense – and it would be an important step in restoring public confidence in this fundamental institution.

By:  Sen. Angus King, Lisa Murkowski
Source: Fox News