Of all the public officials in government, one would expect those serving in the justice system would be above partisanship to avoid the appearance of bias in their official roles as judges. America’s judicial system has rules to assure the public that the men and women sitting in judgment of American citizens and deciding the constitutionality of laws are ethical, and they apply to all judges except those serving in the highest court in the land. It is likely that Supreme Court justices are exempt from ethics standards because they go through an intensive vetting process just to be nominated, and then are subjected to a strident Senate confirmation process before being sworn in to interpret the U.S. Constitution as it applies to laws and issues affecting the entire nation. It is troubling when Supreme Court justices give the appearance of overt bias in their decisions on a consistent basis because they are appointed for life, and with no clear code of conduct to adhere to, the temptation to actively promote one exclusive political ideology with impunity may be difficult to avoid; for two current conservatives on the High Court, it has proven impossible.
For three years, at least, there have been nagging questions about Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia’s close ties to right-wing organizations and their funding mechanism the Koch Brothers, but without a rigorous code of ethics in place there was little chance they would be held to account for, or forced to stop, using their positions on the Court to promote the Koch brothers’ right-wing agenda. Two days ago, Clarence Thomas was at it again when he appeared at a Federalist Society “fundraiser” as a featured speaker that two other High Court justices, Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito also attended. It is a violation of Canon 4C of the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges who are forbidden from being “a speaker, a guest of honor, or featured on the program” of a fundraising event, but because Thomas, a federal judge, sits on the nation’s highest court he is exempt, apparently, from adhering to any code of conduct. Just when it appeared no-one in a position of authority would take action and demand Thomas be held accountable for his recurring ethical violations, a lone elected representative once again spoke out for the American people.
Congressional representative Louise Slaughter is mounting another attempt to hold Thomas, and all High Court justices, to the same ethical standards as every other federal judge and initiated a petition to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts to hold Thomas to account for defying the judicial Code of Conduct. Representative Slaughter is joined by Common Cause, and the Alliance for Justice, in appealing to Chief Justice Roberts’ to address Thomas’ unethical conduct, and filed a formal ethics complaint with the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals against Judge Sykes, who interviewed Thomas as the feature attraction at the Federalist Society’s black-tie fundraiser. Judge Sykes is bound to the Code of Conduct as a federal judge, and Slaughter and company are demanding that “Thomas would be as well – if only the Supreme Court was bound by an ethical code.” In 2011, Chief Justice Roberts claimed that the code “plays the same role” for the Supreme Court as it does for other federal judges and other justices have said they adhere to it, but Thomas and Antonin Scalia have set themselves above ethics rules because they are, after all, Koch brother properties.
The vice president for policy and litigation for Common Cause, Arn Pearson, said “Justice Thomas is among several members of the high court who’ve made a habit of flouting judicial ethics by headlining Federalist Society fundraisers, and he gets away with it because the Court has exempted itself from the Code, but that doesn’t make it right.” Likely, Pearson is alluding to more than conservatives on the Court fundraising for the Federalist Society because it is well-documented that Scalia and Thomas are devotees of the Koch brothers ideological bent and notoriously attended a secret Koch billionaire policy meeting in 2010 with advocates for Citizens United prior to ruling that corporations have the right to buy Republican politicians and influence legislation with unrestricted campaign contributions. In a press release on Wednesday, Representative Slaughter said “The guidelines contained in the Code exist to ensure the public has faith that judicial decision-making is based on the facts and the law, not politics and outside interests.” Obviously, Thomas and Scalia’s judicial decisions are not based on facts, or the law, but on directions from political activists the Koch brothers and their libertarian ideology that is inherently contrary to the public faith and their interests.
It is highly unethical for Supreme Court Justices to regularly attend Federalist Society functions and then vote on matters of the highest importance to the entire nation, but it is criminal that two staunch conservative political activists (Thomas and Scalia) get to decide the fate of the nation as seen through the Koch brothers’ libertarian lenses. Thomas’ wife, Ginni, is a highly-paid conservative operative and teabag advocate that drove Clarence to “accidentally” conceal his wife’s conservative belief-tank income on financial disclosures for several years with impunity. Back in August, Democrats led by Representative Slaughter introduced legislation to hold Thomas and Scalia, and all High Court justices, to the same Code of Conduct as other federal judges, but it went nowhere in the Republican-controlled House because they were Hell-bent and duty-bound to protect the Supreme Court rubber-stamp on Koch brother and ALEC legislation pushed through the House and Republican state legislatures.
The American people have been besieged, beleaguered, and battered by the conservative Supreme Court as a result of their Citizens United ruling, and if the U.S. Congress is not going to act, then it is up to the people to demand that Chief Justice John Roberts reins in the Koch acolytes Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia. At the least, they should be harshly admonished for pandering to corporatist conservatives, and if there were real justice in America, they should be summarily impeached to rid this nation of two of the most corrupt and severely unethical Supreme Court Justices in the nation’s history. The people deserve better than the likes of Scalia and Thomas, and to preserve what little credibility the High Court has with the people, the least Roberts can do is figuratively beat down the Koch surrogates and send a message that just because the Kochs own the Republican Party, they do not own the Supreme Court. Unfortunately for America, with Scalia and Thomas ruling according to the will of the Koch brothers, their decisions adversely affect every American, and it is likely why the American people have lost trust in the transparency and neutrality of the Highest Court in the land.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.