It’s weak sauce – which was the goal all along.
After unrelenting pressure from everyone but Republicans, who by and large are thrilled that Supreme Court justices can be bought, the Court has issued a voluntary, non-binding code of conduct.
Of course, a non-binding code is no code at all, which is the problem here. As long as the members of the Court see themselves as above petty things like rules, the corruption of the institution will not change.
Even the first page of the document (why call it a code when it is not a code?) displays what can only be described as a fit of pique about having to put out anything at all:
“The absence of a Code, however, has led in recent years to the misunderstanding that the Justices of this Court, unlike all other jurists in this country, regard themselves as unrestricted by any ethics rules. To dispel this misunderstanding, we are issuing this Code, which largely represents a codification of principles that we have long regarded as governing our conduct.”
This is laughable, of course, as it implies that the public’s issues with the justices are grounded only in the fact that the rules governing the Court’s conduct were not codified, as if the public had been searching in vain on the Court’s website for it. Rather, the issue is that two justices in particular — Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas— have benefited from the largesse of wealthy Republicans who have business before the Court.
So, the impetus for the code was not that the Court suddenly saw the light about ethics. Instead, it’s designed to quash any outside inquiry into the Court — particularly congressional ones — by saying that any ethics concerns are taken care of now. As Steve Vladeck, an expert on the Supreme Court, wrote when the code was released, the code “reflects a rather remarkable lack of contrition or humility” on the part of the justices.