Reggie Walton, Republican-appointed US judge in DC, calls for Supreme Court ethics code

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A prominent Republican-appointed federal judge on Thursday joined calls for Supreme Court justices to be subject to an ethics code, saying a failure by judges to police their own misconduct lessens Americans’ respect for the judiciary.

Senior US District Judge Reggie B. Walton of DC told attendees of a conference in Chicago focused on threats to the independence of the courts that it was “unimaginable that we have a segment of our federal judiciary that’s not subject to an ethics code,” Reuters reported.

Walton, appointed in 2001 by President George W. Bush, acknowledged his comments might be considered “heresy,” but he was concerned that in action by judges could be in part responsible for congressional legislation on the judiciary that he worried could affect its independence, the news service said.

“We’ve had some judges who’ve been engaged in atrocious behavior, sexual assault, sexual intimidation and other misconduct,” Walton said, according to Reuters. “And many times we haven’t been proactive in punishing them and sanctioning them for what they’ve done.”

In an interview Friday, Walton acknowledged the remarks, saying, “Obviously when those things occur and judges aren’t held accountable, it does affect the respect for the judiciary.”

Walton, a former presiding judge on the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court appointed by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., said Supreme Court justices should be subject to a code of conduct like all other federal and state judges.

“As a court system — federal, state and otherwise — we are under scrutiny and under attack. And I think there’s an attempt by some to shame our independence. And because of that I think all judges should be subject to a code of ethics,” Walton said in his interview.

Walton said he understood from Thursday’s conference, hosted by the National Judicial College, that the Supreme Court is considering such a code, “and I think that’s a good thing.”

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The Supreme Court did not respond to a request for comment.

A recording of the panel was not immediately available, conference officials said, and Walton said he did not speak from prepared remarks.

The conference came at a turbulent time for the judiciary, as President Biden signed legislation this month potentially requiring greater disclosure of judges’ financial conflicts, and the House Judiciary Committee advanced a bill to require the Supreme Court to adopt an ethics code.

In March, many legal ethicists expressed shock at revelations that Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, married to Justice Clarence Thomas, repeatedly texted White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to pursue overturning the 2020 presidential election as President Donald Trump simultaneously threatened to challenge the results at the Supreme Court.

Early this month, a deeply polarized Supreme Court vowed to launch a leak investigation after a draft opinion that would overturn the right to established abortion in Roe v. Wade sent shock waves through the national political landscape.

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Meanwhile, the Supreme Court’s justices and others resisted calls from advocates and lawmakers for independent oversight of matters such as anti-crimination protections for the same justice workers’s more than 30,000 employees nationwide, who lack the as other government and private sector.

Ever since Judge Alex Kozinski of the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in California retired in 2017 amid claims of the workplace sexual misconduct, of the federal judiciary including the chief justice have sought to encourage reporting and eliminate barriers to holding officials accountable for workplace gender discrimination, bullying and racial insensitivity. But they have admitted there is more to be done.

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Walton said that he was not thinking of the Thomases at all in his remarks, and that the incidents of misconduct to which he alluded involved lower court judges at the federal and state level, not the Supreme Court.

Instead, he said he was describing a judicial system “under attack” as a speaker on a conference titled “Democracy and the Courts,” which focused on forces trying to politicize the courts and reduce their independence, including steps by state legislators or executive branch members to cut judicial budgets or to intimidate, remove or retaliate against judges for decisions they did not like.

Walton said, “I made those comments because I felt they were appropriate in order for the courts to ward off any attempts to destroy our independence or the credibility of our institutions.”

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