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Federal judges’ ethics code revised

When it comes to an “appearance of impropriety,” judicial codes of ethics may echo Potter Stewart: they know it when they see it.

For the first time, a newly revised Code of Conduct for federal judges defines the phrase that governs so much of what judges do, or shouldn’t do. The new version of the Code, which takes effect July 1, says 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.”

Canon 2, which has the new definition, also sets out additional forms of impermissible influence, and expands the test for an “appearance of impropriety” to also cover concerns “beyond judges’ adjudicative responsibilities,” according to a press release issued by the Judicial Conference of the United States.

At its biannual meeting earlier this month, the Conference noted that Congress has not increased the number of appellate judgeships, which stands at 179, since 1990, even though federal appellate court caseloads have risen by 42 percent over the same 19-year period.
By Deborah Elkins

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