Since America is supposed to be a nation of laws, even though those laws are not enforced universally, the people expect the judiciary to be impartial, transparent and adhere to the highest ethical standards. For all but nine American judges, the nation’s judiciary is held to high ethical standards because they have to adhere to a “judicial code of conduct.” Perhaps it is because they are appointed for life, or are completely exempt from adhering to any kind of ethics code, conservative Supreme Court Justices have blatantly flouted ethical standards every federal judge in America is required to follow.
For the second time in as many years, Democratic legislators in Congress are calling on the Supreme Court to finally, at long last, adopt a code of ethics for Supreme Court Justices to rein in conservative Justices working for conservative, corporate, and religious groups. The bill, “The Supreme Court Ethics Act of 2015″ that was recently reintroduced would to media silence, if passed by the Koch brothers’ Congress, requires the Supreme Court to adopt a code of the ethics within 180 days. There is little hope the Koch brothers will allow Republicans to be party to legislation eliminating their substantial influence over at least two, and likely three, of the High Court’s conservative Justices.
As it stands now, the nine Supreme Court justices are so powerful that they are currently exempt from adhering to the code of conduct all other U.S. judges are required to follow; an ethics code to ensure there is a semblance of neutrality and transparency in the nation’s federal courts. It is a requirement that the American people support overwhelmingly, and if enacted may well lead the population to believe that the highest court in the land is not working solely for the rich and religious entities controlling the five conservatives on the Court.
In the latest polling from Gallup, the American people’s faith in the High Court as an independent, transparent, and fair entity is a despicable 30 percent; likely because of a recent rash of conservative rulings based on the demands of powerful special interest and religious groups. The solution is a simple fix requiring the Supreme Court justices to recuse themselves from cases where they have a blatant, often monetary conflict of interest, and finally restrict them from engaging in political activities to raise money and awareness for conservative causes; specifically corporate and religious causes.
New legislation introduced by Representative Louise Slaughter is a reiteration of a 2012 bill that has an updated title, “the Supreme Court Ethics Act of 2015.” The new legislation, if by a world-shaking miracle, was passed by the Koch Congress will be a huge step toward ensuring that conservative Justices start “ruling fairly and start conducting themselves in ways that uphold the impartiality and integrity of the judiciary.” Several rulings over the past five years by the conservative Court belie any belief that integrity and impartiality exists in at least three of the Court’s conservative puppets.
According to Senator Chris Murphy (D-CN) “there is absolutely no reason why Supreme Court Justices shouldn’t be subject to the same code of conduct as all other federal judges. The American people deserve to know that our highest court is held to the highest ethical standards, which is why we introduced the Supreme Court Ethics Act of 2015.” All other Federal judges are held to high ethical standards due to requirements in “The Code of Conduct for United States Judges.” Supreme Court conservative Justices not only have no intent, much less obligation to adhere to the Code of Conduct, it is fairly well known that some of them refuse to even “avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all activities.”
This is not the first, or even the second, time legislators have attempted to hold Supreme Court Justices to the same standards as every other federal judge. A similar bill was introduced in 1973, and againin 2013, and three years ago 212 legal scholars recognized the pressing need for an code of ethics and appealed to Chief Justice John Roberts in a letter “urging him to adopt a code of conduct for the Justices.” Roberts has also received a petition signed by 130,000 Americans (so far) begging him to adopt and enforce some kind of ethics code for the High Court; likely because the public knows that conservative Justices, particularly Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, are closely tied to, and committed to serve the Koch brothers, conservative belief tanks, evangelicals, and corporations.
Democratic legislators say, and rightly so, that Congress has the purview to create a Supreme Court Code of Conduct because it legally determines how many Justices sit on the Court as well as how much they are paid by the federal government, not the Koch brothers or conservative belief tanks. In a press release, the bill’s author, Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY) said “The questionable activities of some of our Supreme Court justices have been well documented — participating in political functions, failing to report family income from political groups, and attending political fundraisers. It doesn’t make sense that members of the highest court in the land are the only federal judges exempt from the code of conduct.”
Slaughter was referring to Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas Koch-funded attendance at a highly-secret Koch brother strategy meeting and corporate fundraiser with Citizens United plaintiffs prior to hearing and ruling that corporations are exempt from campaign finance laws according to their 1st Amendment right of free speech. She also noted that Clarence Thomas deliberately concealed hundreds-of-thousands of dollars paid to his wife by the “anti-Obamacare” conservative Heritage Foundation to lobby against the Affordable Care Act; even while the Supreme Court was taking up the Constitutionality of the healthcare insurance reform law. Last year, Justice Samuel Alito was the featured guest speaker at a $25,000-a-head political fundraiser for a conservative magazine group, American Spectator. There is no way of knowing whether or how much Alito earned as a featured speaker because there is no Supreme Court Code of Ethics. Regardless of whether he earned one penny, Alito like Scalia, did use his status and position as a Supreme Court Justice to raise money for conservatives.
It is an affront to Americans, and frankly the rule of law, that every judge in America is held to some kind of ethical standards except the nine Supreme Court Justices with the power to interpret the Constitutionality of any and every law in the nation. Over the past five years, particularly, the American people have suffered the consequences, including the selling of their democracy to the rich and powerful, of a High Court without a code of judicial conduct.
It is true there is no guarantee that a judicial “ethics or conduct code” will ensure transparency and neutrality, especially among the Koch conservatives on the Court. It may, however, serve as a reminder to Justices that they are not above following basic judicial ethics standards; something the Koch brothers will never allow “their” Republican Congress to enact or enforce. If, by some Earth-shaking miracle Congress did enact a Supreme Court Ethics Code, it is likely that the 5 conservatives on the High Court would rule it unconstitutional.
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.
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