On Thursday, a group of Democratic lawmakers proposed a law to establish a Code of Conduct for the Supreme Court.
It’s surely to have Supreme Court Justices Thomas and Scalia quaking in their Tea Party boots because it would mean they would actually have to be independent of political and other influences. They would also have to have the appearance of independence. They would have to stay away from political activity. That part would be really hard.
As it stands, this law would help guarantee that Supreme Court Justices are held to the same ethical standards we expect of other judges.
Democratic Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, joined by Senators Chris Murphy, Richard Blumenthal and Sheldon Whitehouse, introduced the bill. It would make ethics mandatory, rather than an option left to the discretion of Justices like Thomas and Scalia. It would mean all the Justices would have to live by the sort of ethical standards that Justice Kagan applied when she recused herself from Arizona’s ”papers please” law because she was Solicitor General at the time the Federal government filed suit. She did the same thing in 24 other cases on the same grounds.
As Senator Blumenthal said:
This legislation’s goal is to preserve public trust and confidence – the lifeblood of the Supreme Court – after claims of questionable conduct by some Justices, No Justice, any more than a judge, should advance a partisan cause or sit on a case involving a personal friend or interest. There is no persuasive reason in law or logic why Supreme Court Justices should not be held to the same high standard as other federal judges.
The proposed law holds the Supreme Court to the same standards required of judges in the federal court system. Currently, Justices on the Supreme Court decide for themselves if they should recuse themselves from cases in which they may have a personal stake or in Thomas’ case, his wife has a political or financial stake as a holy roller in the Tea Party.
Justices Thomas and Scalia who attended a few partisan fundraisers also ruled in favor of the conservatives raising questions about their independence. This was especially true in Citizens United because that ruling undid decades of established law.
Both of these actions violate the code of conduct already in place for Federal court judges.
We saw how well leaving Supreme court Justices to their own devices worked out when Justice Thomas ruled on the Affordable Care act, while his wife Ginni was paid to lobby against the law. The fact that Thomas “forgot” , to disclose Ginni’s income from lobbying against healthcare – even after she supposedly ceased lobbying against healthcare doesn’t help. That would have been more than just an oops moment had there been a code of conduct for the Supreme Court. Thomas’ conflict of interest problmes are not restricted to benefits to Ginni.
Questions about Thomas and Scalia’s judicial independence are nothing new. We saw it when both Supreme Court Justices attended a Koch Brothers fundraiser in 2010 and the Federalist Society fundraiser they attended in 2011, Thomas’ failure to disclose the sources Ginni’s income for six years also came out in 2011. A code of ethics for the Supreme Court is a bill whose time came a few years ago and has increasing importance given Ginni Thomas’s involvement with Groundswell.
As noted by Media Matters,
The recent Groundswell memoranda obtained by David Corn of Mother Jones reveal that these conflicts are getting worse.
Ginni Thomas was the founder and leader of Liberty Central, a political nonprofit “dedicated to opposing what she characterizes as the leftist ‘tyranny’ of President Obama and Democrats in Congress.” The group was funded by Harlan Crow, frequent patron of the Thomas’ projects and causes and a financial supporter of right-wing campaigns such as the “swift boat” attacks on then-presidential candidate John Kerry and the advertising push to confirm President George W. Bush’s Supreme Court nominees. Crow also serves on the board of the American Enterprise Institute, whose Edward Blum brought the two most recent attacks on the Voting Rights Act and affirmative action before the Supreme Court. Justice Thomas favored Blum’s positions against progressive precedent on both civil rights issues.
Had Federal Court judges been as ethically challenged as Clarence Thomas, they would have been forced to resign. Considering that the Supreme Court is the highest court in the land, it seems the bar for ethical standards should be the same as those for lower courts – if not higher.
If the Supreme Court had a code of conduct, Thomas would have had to recuse himself on several cases in which his wife’s high profile within the Tea Party would scream of bias. Had he failed to do so, there would be a legal basis with teeth to seek Thomas’ resignation. For Thomas and Scalia defenders tempted to question the constitutionality of holding Supreme Court Justices to ethics, Article 3 of the constitution says justices “shall hold their offices during good behaviour. If independence from pillow talk with a political lobbyist isn’t good behavior, I don’t know what is.
Let’s face it, if you are sleeping with someone within a political party whose agenda is to prevent certain classes of eligible voters from voting, the odds of forgetting that fact while considering the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act are zero – or at least it sure looks that way to any reasonable person. The same holds true when you at least look like you might be having pillow talk with someone with a political stake in the Defense of Marriage Act.
One can point to Justice Kagan’s ethical standards as proof that Supreme Court Justices can and do take principles like judicial independence and the appearance of it seriously. Then one is reminded of Justices Thomas and Scalia.
This law would address one of the many problems created by the sort of corruption that has become synonymous with the Republican Party and its puppet masters. But then, that would mean doing something constructive and it would also mean that the separation of powers are in fact separate, rather than subject to pillow talk between one Supreme Court Justice and one member of the Groundswell propaganda alliance.
Image Mother Jones
Ms. Woodbury has a graduate degree in political science, with a minor in law. She is a qualified expert on political theory with a specific interest in the nexus between political theories and models and human rights.
Based on her interest in human rights and the threats that authoritarian regimes are to them, Ms. Woodbury’s masters thesis examined the influence of politics on the enforcement of international criminal law was cited in several academic studies.
Published work includes case summaries for the War Crimes Research Office.
She has an extensive background doing legal research in international and domestic law.
Ms. Woodbury’s work for politicusUSA includes articles on voting rights, the right to asylum and other civil/human rights.