American Judges Association


Date of this Version



Copyright American Judges Association. Used by permission.


Court Review - Volume 55


There may be no state interest more compelling than the independence, impartiality, and integrity of the judiciary. 1 There may also be no public office for which individual accountability is so critical, not only because judges often have the last word in our society’s disputes, but because public confidence in the courts is fundamental to the rule of law around which our society is organized. Trust in the administration of justice depends not only on the merits of the verdicts rendered in the courtroom but on the probity and the appearance of probity among those who decree them. A litigant may not feel happy about losing a case, but no one should walk out of a proceeding reasonably believing that the process was tainted by an arbiter who was biased, improperly influenced, or otherwise unfair.

By the early twentieth century, some states had individually attempted to address the delicate balance between judicial independence and accountability, typically by drafting rudimentary standards of ethical conduct to which judges could aspire.2 The American Bar Association then took up the issue and in 1924 issued Canons of Judicial Ethics, which attempted to harmonize the judicial responsibility to decide cases free from outside influence with the judge’s obligation to behave on and off the bench in a manner that enhances respect for the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary.3

Throughout the United States, while the 1924 ABA code offered commendable aspirational guidance to the bench, enforcement was either entirely lacking or left to the courts themselves. Not surprisingly, judges were not especially energetic about enforcing rules of conduct on one another.4 Nor was the alternative remedy of impeachment apt to be initiated by a legislature.5