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How Ethical Are the Supreme Court Justices?

When we consider the United States Supreme Court, we think about the intelligence, the integrity and the demeanor of men and women who have achieved in their chosen legal profession and reached a potential most of us will not. We admire these people—these Americans who will decide to hear a case and then give a ruling on that case. The cases that are heard before this august body have ramifications for perhaps hundreds of years.

A brief background of the Supreme Court: Article III, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution establishes the high court with these words, “The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services, a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office.”

Two more sections delineate the scope of judicial Powers and over whom. Take a look at the wording even if it seems antiquated. We citizens have a duty to read and interpret those words for ourselves. However, it could take a Constitutional lawyer to assist us in understanding some of these phrasings.

With the advent of the Internet and the World Wide Web, communications are incredibly faster than most ordinary folk could ever dream about. Americans have been able to watch the Congress in session over television. We’ve been able to sit in on court trials in California (O.J. Simpson) while viewing from New York. As of now, we are not able to be in attendance via television in the Supreme Court trials. Citizens may obtain tickets or passes for a certain trial, but they are very limited.

So it comes to the publicity that certain justices have recently received for being at political functions which beg the question of ethical conduct on the part of the justice –“good Behaviour”. Justice Samuel Alito has attended private fundraisers for Republicans and was recorded speaking to corporate executives and representatives. The question is: Will Justice Alito recuse himself if that corporation’s business comes before the Court in any particular situation? Justice Alito has remarked that he can be fair under any circumstance. Because we know human nature to be fickle, should we accept that remark and shrug our shoulders? In other words: Can Justice Alito be trusted?

Then there is Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife Mrs. Virginia “Ginny” Thomas. The American Bar Association Journal lists two articles citing Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife for questionable happenings. One article is titled “Justice Thomas Accused of Failing to Report $686K in Wife’s Income.” Rather clear in substance. The other article is titled “Justice Thomas’ Wife Starts Political Consulting Business for ‘Liberty-Loving Citizens.’” In this article and one from the Alliance for Justice the issue concerns Mrs. Thomas actively participating in Republican Party political affairs. She would not be under scrutiny if her husband were not in the judiciary where conflicts of interest might arise in legal cases—“good Behaviour?”
It comes to this: Martha Neil of www.abajournal.com posted an article on February 23, 2011 titled “100 Law Profs Lobby Congress to Apply Ethics Code to US Supreme Court Justices.” This is quite serious. “Several justices have been accused of accepting travel funds from private donors, reports the Washington Post.” Further, “Congress should create ‘mandatory and enforceable rules to protect the integrity of the Supreme Court,’ the law profs said in their letter…to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees.”

The Constitution provides for a code of ethics for the lower courts. Congress must enact a code for the Supreme Court. The founders of this great USA assumed that persons appointed to the high court would conduct themselves ethically. They would be above reproach. Sadly…this is not true today. And it may not have been true in the past two hundred years either. The difference over two hundred years is advanced communications. For the justices: a benefit and a curse.

As citizens we are charged with the responsibility to keep our government officials honest. It is a very big undertaking. We are constantly reminded that democracy takes work. In 1791 after the Constitution was ratified, Benjamin Franklin was asked, “What have we wrought?” He remarked, “A democratic republic, if you can keep it.”
So be it.


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Democracy vs. Theocracy

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