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.



9 thoughts on “If a Supreme Court Justice Does It, It’s Ethical?

  1. I'm not clear. Ignoring the fact that the GOP will cover for the Supremes, can Congress pass binding legislation about ethics, reporting, making material failures (omissions) criminal? Or does the separation of branches prohibit Congress from interfering?

    The Supreme Court undermined legislation that was intended to address corruption. Quid pro quo bribery is the only thing that's safe to charge a politician with. To review the Latin phrase, "Quid pro quo" means "something for something." I will give your Superpac $200,000 if you vote against xyz bill. BUT if a lobbyist says, "We're depositing $200,000 with your superpac and, by the way, we want you to vote against xyz bill" – that's probably legal. 

    I shouldn't be surprised (but I am) that the USSC has used their own lax interpretation of corruption to cash in themselves. 

    Since I'm not in the courtroom, my viewpoint is colored by my sources of information… but I think Carrol is doing a good job on the stand and her legal team a truly outstanding job. It will be fun if the media can apply the word "rapist" to the litany of convictions that trail Trump.

    • The complete independence of SCOTUS is not a matter of black-letter law; it's more a result of John Marshall's brass balls in 'Marbury v. Madison'. The actual text of Article 3 (much like the 2nd Amendment, the 16th century's uncodified use of commas murkifies the meaning a bit) can be (and has been) interpreted to mean that Congress establishes SCOTUS as well as the inferior courts.
      “Quid pro quo bribery is the only thing that’s safe to charge a politician with.” Literally, if it’s not a bag of cash with ‘Quid pro quo’ embroidered on the outside, it’s not a bribe.

  2. Rest assured the Supremes will be subjected to plenty of scrutiny – after they apply for medicaid and/or food stamps.

  3. I am unsure why various media keep reporting that John Roberts wants to 'protect his legacy'.  Have not Citizens United, Heller, "racism no longer exists in the USA", and everything he has done to assure unfettered gerrymandering and unfair election rules will not be subject to Court review cemented his legacy?

    Is there reason to believe that Alito gives a damn about public opinion on his march toward subjecting laws to 'christian dogma'?  Sorry evangelicals, when all is said and done Alito & Thomas & Barrett are hard core Dominionist Catholics and you are only useful dupes for now.

  4. Ya know, I'm kinda hopin' that our 3 liberal/progressive justices are 100% pure!

    Either way.

    Either 100% NOT doing any of the corrupt things the 6 bigoted and corrupt Fascists have been doing.

    Or 100% doing the same thing – only better!

    Judge Kagan to Clarence "Uncle" Thomas:

    "Oh Clare!  I swear…  Your corruption is so… So tawdry, silly and cheap!   Your cheap-ass billionaire buddy only spends 1/2 a million bucks a year on vaca's for you and your Mrs?  And he bought your Mama's house?!?

    HA!  T'ain't NOTHIN'! 

    MY lib billionaire is so rich he makes George Soros seem like like a shoe-shine boy, takes me and my whole family on million dollar a year vacations!  And he bought MY Mama AN ISLAND IN THE Mediterranean!!!!!

    See if Gorsuch, Roberts, Suds, Al, "Coat-hanger" Barbie, or JR the CJ can top THAT SHIT, MFER!!!!!"


  5. In other news, Mike Pence testified before the grand jury investigating Trump's role in the J6 insurrection and surrounding shenanigans. This was the day AFTER an appellate court rejected Trump's last-ditch effort to stop it. 

    What he said, we don't know. Trump didn't want it to happen and it did. That makes it good news in my book. 

    Oh! I almost forgot. Bragg asked for a protective order to regulate "discovery."  That's legal jargon for a "dump" of evidence from the prosecution to the defense. It's required. However, based on Trump's previous (and current) bad behavior, Bragg wants the order to be given by the judge to Trump in person. so there's no misunderstanding. 

    Bragg wants to be able to withhold the names of his staff and in some cases limit Trump's access to some discovery materials to in the presence of his lawyers only, no copies and no social media about the case, people in the case, or evidence.

    Case in point: On the first day of the rape trial, Trump violated orders. The lawyer for Trump promised to the judge to communicate with Trump but indicated that (my phrase) his client is a loose cannon. SO it's not a great leap for a judge to decide there is a legitimate need.

    Withholding discovery from the defendant happens. It happened to me. My lawyers were able to see evidence about my flight path, maybe from NORAD, that I wasn't allowed to see and they had to be very careful in discussing with me. So it does happen. 

  6. Are some people of wealth trying to put their thumb on the scales of justice?  It sure looks that way.  Illegal or not, unethical or not, justice is harmed.  Just the appearance of an uneven system which favors those who give favors undermines the reputation of our country and democracy itself.  

    The public trust in the fairness of the system requires constant effort to achieve what is fair for all citizens.  It is a lofty ideal we can only hope to approximate.  The bad example of some of the SCOTUS justices is a large step away from that goal.  You would think they would have better judgement.  Is not good judgement what needs to merit their confirmation? 

    • What?  You want our judges to have good judgment???  That's so extreme!  It's almost like saying that in order to get a job, the applicant has to have the skills, ability and demeanor to execute the duties of the job. Such silliness!  Everybody knows all it takes is "I know a guy…"

      (Thanks for the sarcasm opportunity) 


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