Two conservative justices on the Supreme Court have raised questions about laws regarding ethics and conflicts-of-interest when it comes to the cases that the SCOTUS reviews. Unlike all other federal judges, Supreme Court justices are not responsible for following the Code of Conduct for United States judges. Instead, they are given broad latitude and authority to recuse themselves from cases if they feel that is the right thing to do. Unfortunately, in the cases of Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, they have failed to do so, and have faced heat from concerned citizens multiple times for alleged conflicts of interest. With respect to past events, a group of Democrats plan to bring forward legislation to force Supreme Court to adhere to a system of ethics.
Right now, there is no process for citizens to complain or make a complaint about the ethical performance of judges on the Supreme Court:
Such calls for Thomas to recuse from cases hit a fevered pitch when the Affordable Care Act was before the high court and Ginni [his wife] was actively lobbying against it. As it turned out, there’s no mechanism for concerned citizens to complain about a Supreme Court justice, or even a clear set of rules that the justices must follow in making recusal decisions. (Source)
According to Mother Jones, “On Thursday, Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sen. Chris Murhpy (D-CT), and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), plan to introduce the Supreme Court Ethics Act of 2012 that would force the high court to adopt an ethics code much like the one that binds lower court judges. The idea has support from legal scholars, who’ve been urging the court to adopt such a code since last year.”
Both judges have attended events hosted by right-wing groups and corporations and then proceeded to judge on cases where the verdict directly benefitted persons who they ideologically identify with and to whom they have known connections. Even were they judging to the best of their ability, with no special interests in mind, they would still ethically need to recuse themselves from the cases in order to prevent motive-based questions from even being asked. That is not what has happened. Instead, Scalia and Thomas have attended fundraisers sponsored and ran by the Koch brothers, and gone on to judge on cases that had a financial impact for the funders of American conservatism.
The New York Times has reported on the Koch meetings, which basically feature a list of individuals that the Kochs believe can help them with their eventual goal — the privatization of most government services and bargaining rights stripped from the American worker:
The Kochs insist on strict confidentiality surrounding the California meetings, which are entitled “Understanding and Addressing Threats to American Free Enterprise and Prosperity.” The letter advises participants that it is closed to the public, including the news media, and admonishes them not to post updates or information about the meeting on the Web, blogs, social media or traditional media, and to “be mindful of the security and confidentiality of your meeting notes and materials.” [ …]
To encourage new participants, Mr. Koch offers to waive the $1,500 registration fee. And he notes that previous guests have included Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas of the Supreme Court, Gov. Haley Barbour and Gov. Bobby Jindal, Senators Jim DeMint and Tom Coburn, and Representatives Mike Pence, Tom Price and Paul D. Ryan.
And just in case you had any doubts about the Kochs’ agenda, here’s the 1980 platform David Koch ran on when he ran for Vice President of the United States on the Libertarian ticket:
In fact, that indiscretion prompted Common Cause, an officially nonpartisan and nonprofit group, to petition the Justice Department with the argument that Scalia and Thomas should have recused themselves from the extremely controversial Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission case that resulted in opening the floodgates to legal political bribery.
In early 2011, The New York Times reported,
“We’re treading in new territory here for us,” said Arn H. Pearson, Common Cause’s vice president for programs. “But a situation like this raises fundamental questions about public confidence in the Supreme Court.” [… ]
Supreme Court justices have wide latitude in deciding whether to recuse themselves from hearing cases. In one of the more well-known examples in recent years, Justice Scalia refused to remove himself from hearing a challenge to Vice President Dick Cheney’s energy task force after he had gone duck hunting with Mr. Cheney in 2004.
“It’s a steep uphill climb for Common Cause, but not an insurmountable one,” said Steven Gillers, who teaches legal ethics at New York University. At the very least, he said, the group’s petition could force a “public airing” of questions surrounding the two justices’ past appearances at the Koch retreat and their connections to the group.
Additionally, the news broken last week by Mother Jones about the conservative activist group, Groundswell, which the spouse of Justice Thomas, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, is an active part of, calls into question once again the amount of trust that can be given to judges who so blatantly engage in bench activism. Groundswell has been part of the conservative underground responsible for overstating and exaggerating the recent ‘scandals,’ especially Benghazi, as well as attempting to coordinate conservative social media (and other media) talking points. This type of blatant conservative activism by the wife of a Supreme Court Justice cannot be taken lightly.
Here’s a brief explanation of Groundswell, in case you have not yet heard the story. Via my colleague, Nathaniel Downes:
Groundswell has tied itself heavily with right-wing media outlets such as Breitbart and the Daily Caller as well as right-wing organizations such as voter suppression organization True the Vote, anti-family organization the Family Research Council, and other similar groups. This is an adaptation of the approach the bi-annual Koch brothers meeting has taken for years. As rightly pointed out by Slate.com, Groundswell is a conservative coördination group, mainly filled with journalists, lawyers, pundits and former politicians. The group has targeted traditional Republican donors to coordinate, enabling the right money to reach the right hands at the right time.
He goes on to report how potentially dangerous this could be for the future of politics:
By creating a more solid coördination between pundit and media, Groundswell aims to control the message, to get the people of the United States to march to their propaganda. And it appears that the plan is working, as we can witness in this video on Obamacare. Even Republican politicians are finding themselves frequently at-odds with their own misinformed constituents. And we can only expect this to get worse as Groundswell continues its activities.
Luckily, there is a group of Democrats taking steps to rectify the growing problem of conflicts of interest on the Supreme Court, including such issues as Scalia’s energy vote or Thomas’s on GM crops; regardless of one’s stance on GMOs, Thomas’ position as an attorney for a powerful agricultural company, Monsanto, represents a clear conflict of interest on that decision as well. It is unclear as of yet what kind of success this Democratic idea will have.
Reposted from Addicting Info with permission.
- Democrats To Introduce Supreme Court Ethics Bill (motherjones.com)
- Supreme Court Ethics Act Proposed In Response To Controversial Behavior By Justices Scalia, Thomas (ripley8.newsvine.com)
- Democrats In Congress Make Long-Awaited Move To Force Ethics On Supreme Court (addictinginfo.org)