top of page

Appearance and the U.S. Supreme Court

Post # 214, Bob McKnight's Florida Commentary

"A judge must avoid all impropriety and the appearance of impropriety."

Canon 2A, Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges

Conservative political pundits have joined voices to object to calls for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to either resign or at a minimum abstain from any decisions that could relate to his family members, in any way. Particularly the GOP argue that the calls are partisan and an attempt to eliminate the Thomas vote on critical issues coming before the Court on abortion and reapportionment.

After the January 6th attack on the Capitol resulting in human deaths, Justice Thomas rendered a sole dissenting vote in the Supreme Court case requesting the release of the White House documents to the January 6th House Committee. Thomas voted for Trump's position. The Justice's wife, Virginia, a lobbyist, relentlessly pressured the Presidential Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to keep President Trump in office and overturn the legal election. The House Special Committee released Mrs. Thomas' telephone records on the calls to Meadows, and now says it will subpoena Mrs. Thomas. I don't deny that there may be such intent from some Democratic members of Congress. But, let's look at an important document:

What is overlooked in this dispute is the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges, with amendments proposed in September, 2018 and adopted on March 12, 2019. The Amendment is identified in the Code as Canon 2A below:

Canon 2A. 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. Public confidence in the judiciary is eroded by irresponsible or improper conduct by judges, including harassment and other inappropriate workplace behavior. A judge must avoid all impropriety and the appearance of impropriety. This prohibition applies to both professional and personal conduct. A judge must expect to be the subject of constant public scrutiny and accept freely and willingly restrictions that might be viewed as burdensome by the ordinary citizen. Because it is not practicable to list all prohibited acts, the prohibition is necessarily cast in general terms that extend to conduct by judges that is harmful although not specifically mentioned in the Code. Actual improprieties under this standard include violations of law, court rules, or other specific provisions of this Code.

In essence, especially with the highest court in our country, which has judges appointed for life, just the appearance of a conflict is basis for abstaining from voting.


Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page