While Donald Trump is in the headlines every day, with one indictment after another, the Supreme Court justices are laughing at the population of the United States. Once on the Court for a lifetime appointment, it seems they can be as corrupt as they want and get away with it. Aside from impeachment which could never happen with a polarized Congress, there is no way to force a Supreme Court justice to step down. They can voluntarily resign, or die in office, but that’s about it. They don’t flaunt their corrupt activities in our faces and try to keep their egregious behavior hidden, but careful investigation of their activities will reveal actions they want to keep secret. At least they want to give the appearance of being upstanding and righteous.
Clarence Thomas, a conservative jurist, is a prime example of corruption on the Court with no path to rid the judicial system of this cancer in its midst. Originally, a Pro Publica report had him in bed with Harlan Crow, an uber-wealthy conservative businessman who would take Thomas and his wife on luxury vacations on his private plane cost free. Subsequently it was learned that over the years, Thomas enjoyed at least 38 of these luxury vacations with different conservative billionaire benefactors who must have found Thomas a charming and entertaining guest. There were also VIP tickets to various sporting events. None of these gifts were reported by Thomas as the law demands. And apparently no action has been taken by the Court or by Congress to slap his wrists or force him to resign. Corruption seems to be okay if you’re conservative enough.
Justice Samuel Alito also took vacations with billionaires in private planes, going fishing with hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer in Alaska. Other trips are unknown as are other Justices that might have accepted gifts from wealthy “friends.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee did advance a bill called the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal and Transparency Act this year, but Republicans have refused to pass it. No surprise. Chief Justice John Roberts wants the Supreme Court to handle all ethical transgressions internally, which undoubtedly means no transparency. He doesn’t want the Court’s dirty laundry to be washed in public. But the justices can’t significantly discipline one of their own members. There is nothing in the Constitution describing how corrupt activities of the Court should be handled. Article III does say that judges of the courts shall hold their Offices during good behavior but it doesn’t describe how to get them off the Court for bad behavior, which Thomas’s activities certainly are. Interestingly, none of Thomas’s so called billionaire friends were friends of his or granted him special favors before he was appointed to the bench. Is it possible they were trying to influence him in some way, or was it all just friendship?
Aside from ethical reform for the court system, term limits should be imposed in a Constitutional amendment. Life expectancies are growing longer than they were at the time the Constitution was written and Justices can remain on the Court for many decades, which was not anticipated in the past. Long terms of nine or more years would be warranted to preclude political interference and a Justice could be reappointed if he or she were outstanding.
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