An A.B.A. Backtrack That Makes No Sense

What in the world is the American Bar Association thinking? The New York Times's Adam Liptak reports this morning that an A.B.A. panel is recommending a change to the language in the Code of Judicial Conduct that would soften to the point of unenforceability certain restrictions on judicial "impropriety and the appearance of impropriety." Apparently, the decision was so controversial that it prompted the immediate resignation of one panel member.

Here is the gist of the story in Liptak's words; "The very first canon of the proposed revisions continues to say that judges `shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.' But recently added language in the introduction to the code says that while that and other canons provide "important guidance," judges cannot be disciplined for violating them. The canons are followed by rules that are more specific (judges may not, for instance, use the prestige of their offices for financial advantage), and the new introduction says that only those rules may serve as the basis for discipline."

At a time when judges of all stripes all over the country are under concerted political assault, organizations like the ABA ought to be tightening restrictions upon inappropriate judicial conduct-- ought to be proactive in helping convince a shaky public that the tiny majority of judges who flaunt the rules can and will be punished. Instead, as critics of the ABA move contend, the organization is going in the opposite direction while making the legalistic argument that the existing rules are "vague." Nonsense. Which is precisely what the ABA's House of Delegates ought to say when they take up the issue next week in Miami.

By Andrew Cohen |  February 6, 2007; 8:32 AM ET
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