What Is the Code of Conduct for United States Judges?

The Code of Conduct for United States Judges maintains the integrity of judges.
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If you choose a career as a judge, you'll be responsible for overseeing court cases, making rulings and writing opinions. But this doesn't put you above the law. In fact, you must follow strict rules of conduct. Most U.S. judges must adhere to the Code of Conduct for United States Judges -- which lays out exactly what you can and cannot do as a judge. That's good to know if you appear before judges as an attorney or if you are a citizen seeking justice.


The Code of Conduct for United States Judges was established by the Judicial Conference -- the policy making body for U.S. courts -- in 1973 as the Code of Judicial Conduct for United States Judges. In 1987, the name was shortened to simply the Code of Conduct for United States Judges. Revisions were made to the code for the first time in 1992 with minor revisions also taking place in 1996, 1999 and 2000. The most recent revisions to the code took place in 2009 when substantial changes were adopted.


The code does not apply to all judges, but if you become a United States circuit judge, district judge, Court of International Trade judge, Court of Federal Claims judge, bankruptcy judge or magistrate judge it will apply to you. It will also apply to you if you become a judge for the Tax Court, Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, or Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. Only certain parts of the compliance section of the code apply to special masters and commissioners.


The code contains five canons that dictate how you will conduct yourself as a judge. The first canon requires you to uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary, and the second canon states that you must avoid impropriety or the appearance of impropriety. The third canon states that you must perform your duties fairly, impartially and diligently. The fourth canon says that you can only engage in extrajudicial activities that are consistent with judicial office. Finally, the fifth canon prohibits you from taking part in political activities.


The code of conduct -- like all rules -- is subject to interpretation. If you are a judge and an aspect of the code is unclear to you, you can get a clarification from the Committee on Codes of Conduct. Any judge to whom the code applies can seek a clarification by writing to the committee: Chair, Committee on Codes of Conduct, c/o General Counsel; Administrative Office of the United States Courts; Thurgood Marshall Federal Judiciary Building; One Columbus Circle, N.E.; Washington, D.C. 20544

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