(c) Josh Sager – January 2012
The Supreme Court is the top court of the land, wise beyond all other jurists, without bias, above the fray because they are appointed for life, beholden to nobody, and working tirelessly for the good of the people. One need only look at the history of the court to see that this view is naive to the point of believing in the tooth fairy. The Supreme Court has historically been filled with flawed HUMANS who have biases and personal issues which color their decisions (Ex. Dred Scott V. Sanford, Korematsu v. United States, etc.). While the past generation’s courts have been filled with flawed individuals, the current Roberts court has completely given up the pretense of impartiality and neutrality to become the personal lapdogs of big industry. Virtually every recent decision where the rights of corporations have been weighed against the rights of the people has turned out in favor of the corporations due to the overwhelming support of the conservative Supreme Court Justices. The current Supreme Court has decided that corporations are given the rights of people, but with none of the responsibilities; these infinitely wise Justices also decided that Wal-Mart’s discrimination against women doesn’t prove a pattern of discrimination because the problem was TOO widespread to be considered a pattern. While I am not a neutral observer as I am biased against corporate interests, nobody with half a hemisphere firing in their brain can look at the court and say that the republican majority is impartial.
I don’t even know where to begin with the Republican side of the court! While all of the Republican Justices are ideologically extremely conservative, there is a vital difference between Justices Alito and Roberts and Justices Thomas and Scalia; Justices Alito and Roberts have not accepted significant gifts from interest groups, while Justices Thomas and Scalia have repeatedly accepted gifts from interest groups and have decided on cases where they have conflicts of interests. Regardless of partisan affiliation, Justices Thomas and Scalia are completely beyond the normal spectrum of judicial appointees in terms of their ethical violations.
My view of the court is that there are two types of Justices: those who follow their beliefs and those who are prostitutes to the moneyed interests. Large aggregations of money and power, whether they are partisan political groups, lobbying firms, large corporations or unions, can potentially exploit the moral weakness of judges by enticing them to change their political opinions. As the Supreme Court is not bound by the federal judicial ethics laws, the only barrier to corruption of Supreme Court Justices by bribery from moneyed interests is the individual moral character of the Justice; a moral character that, in my opinion, has been found lacking in several of the current Justices.
While I disagree with the conservative views of Roberts, Alito, and much of the time Kennedy, I respect these differences of opinion and believe them to be honest actors. I have no right to say that the liberal view is the correct one and anybody who disagrees with it is immediately evil and must be corrupt (that would be the Tea Party’s and religious fundamentalists’ viewpoints). On the other hand, the blatantly corrupt actions of Thomas and Scalia are completely inexcusable.
Justices Thomas and Scalia have sold their vote without shame and should be stripped of any power, then prosecuted for corruption. Justice Thomas openly accepted numerous gifts, such as historical objects (Bible owned by Frederick Douglas, bust of Lincoln, etc.) from rich donors and then proceeded to hear cases related to the interests of the donors. One of these donors, Harlan Crow, a conservative businessman, has given numerous gifts to Thomas, including a $500,000 donation to Thomas’ wife, Ginny Thomas’, for her Tea Party group. Crow’s organization, CCI, has filed numerous briefs in cases that are heard by the Supreme Court and not only has Thomas not recused himself in these cases, but in every one of these cases he has supported whichever side Crow files the brief for.
In addition to Thomas’ gifts, Ginny Thomas runs a lobbying firm for extreme right wing causes and benefits directly from the decisions of her husband (See: Citizens United case). The actions of Justice Thomas and his wife are the very definition of bribery and would get any other federal judge tossed out on their ass, at the very least. The only thing saving Thomas from being kicked out is the loophole that essentially exempts the Supreme Court from all oversight.
Scalia has repeatedly accepted “speaking engagements” that have amounted to all-expenses paid vacations to high price hotels from conservative groups. While there is nothing inherently corrupt when a Supreme Court Justice gives a lecture, these lectures are often held by corporate groups that have benefitted directly from the increased influence over politics that several Supreme Court decisions have created in their decisions; at the very least; this conflict alone is grounds for recusal in any other federal court. To put this ethical situation in perspective, during one recent social event, Scalia found himself at a high priced hotel, attending a party partially funded by the lawyer who will be presenting the case that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional. At best, Scalia is merely incompetent enough that he fails to realize that attending parties thrown by lawyers who will be presenting cases in your court is unethical, but the more likely situation is that he simply does not care. Scalia has been accepting in-kind, donations from groups that he will rule in favor of or has ruled in favor of for years but has not been called on it because he is a “Supreme Justice”.
The creators of the Supreme Court failed to see a fatal flaw in their design; in creating a court which operates above all others, they attempted to create a body which cannot be interfered with by outside influences. In theory, the court would be post-partisan and be able to rule based upon the law and conscience only. The Supreme Court exists in a neutral bubble, where no outside force can reach in and attack the Justices for their decisions, thus the court can affect issues such as civil rights without worry of electoral backlash. The one failure in this design is that the Justices are human, meaning they are susceptible to bias and corruption. By having nobody above them, the Supreme Court falls into the trap of “Who watches the Watcher?” and they have become increasingly corrupt.
Starting in the middle of the 20th century, there began a right wing push to stack the court with conservatives who would act in the interests of the right wing. While stacking the court is completely against the ideals of its formation, this is neither illegal nor unethical, but rather an effective way to affect public policy. While I abhor several of the decisions of the conservative court, such as Citizen’s United which gives corporations unlimited power to affect elections and Thomson V. Louisiana where the court simply stripped a man of settlement money for being sent to death row for 14 years in a staged case, the most damaging decision by far was the Bush V. Gore case of 2001. As I have previously stated, the conservatives on the court don’t hold positions that progressives (such as myself) agree with but that doesn’t make one perspective immoral or wrong. There will always be different perspectives on the same issues; however, I have serious problems with the Bush V. Gore case because the case itself is simply wrong and immoral.
The Bush V. Gore case in 2001 decided the election in favor of Bush. Being a liberal, I dislike the policies of Bush, but even if the court had decided on the side of Gore, this case would have been a massive breach of the constitution. The president of the United States is decided by the votes of the people, expressed by the Electoral College, and the very fact that the court decided the winner of the election by a partisan vote is simply wrong. The nine justices of the Supreme Court decided the election for Bush when they should have simply ordered a full recount of Florida, preserving the integrity of the election process. The fact that Gore actually won the election after the recount was over means that Bush was the first ever president of the USA who was not elected by either popular or representative vote. When his non-election is taken into account with the great economic, social, civil, and international harm he caused, the entire issue becomes even more grotesque. All of the harm of the Bush administration could be laid at the feet of the five men who elected him president, but they will never feel blame for this because as always, they are SUPREME.