I never wanted to be a millionaire – I just wanted to live like one (Golf Great Walter Hagan)
Today the Senate Judiciary Committee held what passes for a hearing on judicial ethics, more specifically those (or the lack thereof) of the U.S. Supreme Court. Oh, they are just fine and dandy when it comes to the code of ethics mere judges beneath their exalted status are required to follow. But themselves? They are aghast at the thought they should have to follow an actual written code of ethics.
And boy are they mightily offended that we mere mortals, as in every person in the country that has or has held a job has rules, or even a code of ethics they are required to follow!
You see, “Justices” are special. They even make (not that they always mean it of course) grand pronouncements (sometimes in rulings) about no one being above the law. Hell, carved in the stone over the entrance to their building are the words “Equal Justice Under Law.” Just not for them. Unlike every other elected or appointed official Justices believe no Code of Conduct, no rules regarding ethics or for addressing conflicts of interest should exist. Or, as I said even be considered. As far as they’re concerned they and they alone will decide if one or more of them has a conflict of interest and should recuse themselves from a case. It’s rare that Justices have done so. And the concept of, even when those who do so some digging (usually reporters who cover them) and no actual conflict exists but recusing to avoid even the appearance of impropriety is a bat-shit insane notion!
It’s been said by many that SCOTUS is the judge of its own power and I for one believe Marbury v Madison which early in our history established the role (and importance) of judicial review there has always been the possibility of an out of control egotistic set of Justices establishing that while every other citizen was equal under the law, that no person was above the law that well… THEY were indeed so effing special that THEY were in fact above the law! I have no doubt, none that if Congress were to pass a law that established a Code of Ethics for SCOTUS they’d strike it down as unconstitutional. They’ve already signaled the very grounds on which their decision would be based – separation of powers.
As far as they are concerned they get to have a say over the scope of authority of the Congress and the Executive Branch, the other two of what our Constitution has always been considered to have established as co-equal branches of government are nothing of the sort. It’s clear that under Roberts NO one including the other two branches of the Federal Government have any say over them or their actions.
So if a Justice won’t recuse from a case where there’s a conflict of interest, or wants to rake in money on side gigs (that frequently set up such conflicts) or even take massive gifts from rich people who, if not directly still have a hand in cases SCOTUS might hear can just kiss their a$$. That’s how we get to a point where, despite the federal code and precedent a Justice answering questions from Congress he/she can say “go f**k yourselves in polite yet pointed legal language. So today we had a ho-hum hearing without any of the type of people who could have and should have been there answering questions.
I’ve had almost 23 hours to digest what Lawrence O’Donnell said on his show last night about what we could expect today. And as today and this evening have gone on I’ve grown more furious. The husband of our Vice-President is a terrific lawyer and had a lucrative job before she was elected. He was making multiple millions of dollars a year and would still be doing so had she not become VP. But he resigned from his law firm during the transition, and these days makes peanuts in comparison teaching a little law.
Here’s the thing. His practice was such he personally would never had had a case (or it’s extremely unlikely) that would make it up to SCOTUS. None of the lawyers in his firm had any cases that might “ripen” to the point of being taken up by SCOTUS, at least anytime in the foreseeable future by which I mean his wife’s tenure as VP. But he was part of a high end law firm with lots of connections and even though continuing with them in a DC office and continuing to rake in millions a year he and his wife, our Vice-President knew it wouldn’t look good even though doing what he did only living in DC was legal and violated no ethics codes/rules.
Still, to avoid even the appearance of impropriety he resigned.
Being VP will wind up costing Harris and Emhoff an awful lot of millions. Probably upwards of ten million dollars per term in Office. To express some of what O’Donnell did no one held a gun to their heads and forced them to make the decision as a family that Harris would run for VP. It was a choice. She was making quite a name for herself in the Senate and having already served at Attorney General of our largest (in population and one of the largest in size0 state if not right now surely would have been on short lists for Attorney General of the U.S. at some point. I’m sure when deciding (during vetting – she knew she was on the short list for VP) they talked about the consequences should she accept the position and get elected. That he would wind up having to resign. But in their family public service means public service, including some sacrifices. Like millions of dollars a year.
SCOTUS? Well, I quoted Walter Hagan for a reason. If you don’t know golf, a hundred years ago he was on everyone’s list of the top few golfers in the world. He’s part of everyone’s top ten greatest golfers list, and for good reason when you look at how much he won, even at times dominated the game. He was also shall we say rather flamboyant, and to the point that quite a few upper crust types found distasteful. Hagan enjoyed showing off fancy clothes and cars and giving interviews in mansions he was staying in. Born to working class parents he was living a life most such people then and now can only dream of. Sure, he had his detractors but he had his benefactors too. Back almost fifty years ago when I was in high school both in high schools and in colleges/universities there were always Boosters. Within that group was a small subset of what we called “jock eaters” as in they were so desperate to be seen with us they’d eat our jockstrap. And some of them would cross lines by giving inappropriate gifts. Back in my day the big stuff like hundreds of dollars in envelopes, cars, jobs for relatives etc. was mostly limited to college level athletes but it has long since filtered down to not just the high school level but even younger.
And yes, there were rules against that stuff and people and their teams/schools did get caught and punished. Sometimes severely. From where I sit, it seems like SCOTUS Justices are acting like entitled athletes and soaking up “goodies” from whomever is rich and offers them. So we have Justices hanging out with billionaires including and especially the excesses of Thomas’ sugar daddy. His wife Ginny had her own collection of them too. Or CHIEF Justice Roberts’ wife raking in upwards of ten million a year as a headhunter for legal firms, some of which will wind up before SCOTUS or at least working behind the scenes on case. That second part has likely happened already. Or, what about Brewski Brett who had financial problems suddenly melt away and he all of a sudden became well off? It’s an awful thing to contemplate just how deep the rot has become in the last couple of decades.
Look, if any of these people want to be filthy stinking rich then they can do so both legally and ethically in the private sector. The can leave public service, as in their position as Justice of the Supreme Court and leverage that into insane money from law firms, corporate boards, etc.
No one held a gun to their heads and made them accept their current jobs.
No one is holding a gun to their head forcing them to stay if they want to attain different jobs that will pay them enough to live “Lifestyles of the Rich and Fabulous.”
But they aren’t going anywhere. They insist on having their cake and eating it to. They DEMAND it. And now they are whining and working towards DEMANDING the rest of us shut up and leave them be!
Finally, I’m frankly disappointed the Democratic appointees to SCOTUS signed on to the “we don’t think we should have to answer for our lack of an ethics code” letter. WTF?
Justices are famously secretive about who says what in their daily conference when SOCTUS is in session but if our people, especially Justice Jackson who has just announced a recusal even though there’s no actual direct conflict better be taking the others to task.
Roberts has spent his tenure focused on having history write his legacy in positive terms. His stance on the ethics issue in a court that’s rotten to the ethical core is one more reason why the legacy he has worked so hard to achieve will be very different than he envisioned.