If a Supreme Court Justice Does It, It’s Ethical?

Well, well. More rot in the Supreme Court. The big, screaming headline at Insider is Jane Roberts, who is married to Chief Justice John Roberts, made $10.3 million in commissions from elite law firms, whistleblower documents show. Do tell. “At least one of those firms argued a case before Chief Justice Roberts after paying his wife hundreds of thousands of dollars,” it also says. Plus there appears to be some fuzziness in the Chief Justice’s financial disclosures about exactly how his wife was being compensated. This is complicated stuff and you should just read the Insider article. I’m just going to quote this bit of recap:

First, ProPublica revealed that Clarence Thomas accepted lavish, undisclosed gifts of travel and had engaged in real estate transactions with Harlan Crow, a Dallas real-estate developer and GOP donor. That news prompted the discovery of errors in Thomas’s financial disclosure forms, which he agreed to revise. This isn’t the first time that Thomas has had difficulty with filing complete and accurate financial disclosure forms. In 2011, Thomas amended 13 years of forms, some of which had wrongly claimed that his wife Ginni had no outside income, when in fact she’d been paid more than half a million dollars by the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Then came the news that shortly after his confirmation to the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch had sold his share of a vacation property to Big Law CEO. He reported the transaction on his disclosure forms, but left the name of the buyer blank.
These disclosures came on the heels of yet another report in November that an evangelical activist orchestrated an influence campaign targeting Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. by mobilizing a network of well-heeled conservative donors to contribute to the Supreme Court Historical Society. One of those donors, the activist claims, received an early heads up about a coming decision in the Hobby Lobby case.

Insider doesn’t mention Justice Brett Kavanaugh, but there is new reporting out about him, too. This won’t be new to you if you were paying attention at the time, but the Guardian came out with a report that reminds us he was given a great big pass by the Senate in his confirmation hearings. Revealed: Senate investigation into Brett Kavanaugh assault claims contained serious omissions, it says. We knew that, but thanks for reminding us. There are also unanswered questions about who paid off Justice Kavanaugh’s debts. And his work for the George W. Bush administration could have used closer scrutiny, according to some.

Just this week Justice Roberts let us know that his testifying to the Senate about ethics at the Supreme Court was was beneath him. The ethics of members of the Court will be taken care of by the Court. See Steve Benen at MSNBC and also Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern at Slate.

The justices themselves are wholly responsible for this high-octane ethics quagmire, which now drags into its fourth week. Any sane institution that relies wholly on public approval, when faced with multiple irrefutable reports of distortions and deception, would respond with a plan to do better. It speaks volumes that the Imperial Court’s response is a promise to simply continue to do the same. Why? Because it thinks the other branches won’t do anything about it. As Ian Millhiser noted in Vox this week, the Constitution makes it extraordinarily difficult to remove a justice, or diminish the court’s power. The reason it is set up this way, believe it or not, is because the framers thought the judiciary would rise above the partisan fray. In practice, however, the Supreme Court has proven remarkably easy for one political party to capture. Its members are selected through a flagrantly political process. It is formed by political imperatives. And yet the court pretends—and demands we all pretend—that it’s magically purified of politics as soon as its justices are seated.

Justice Roberts is counting on there never being a significant Democratic majority in Congress in his lifetime.

In other news, also at Slate see Trump’s Lawyer Did Him No Favors on Thursday by Robert Katzberg. In brief, Katzberg thinks that Joe Tacopina’s cross-examination of E.. Jean Carroll yesterday helped E. Jean Carroll.