The letter details years of Roberts’ refusal to act to strengthen the court’s ethics, growing more pathetic as it does so. It notes that committee members sent Roberts a letter 11 years ago “urging the Court to adopt a resolution stating that the Justices of the Court abide by the Judicial Conference’s Code of Conduct for United States Judges—a Code that binds every other judge in the federal judiciary.”
Roberts refused then. He “responded that the Court ‘does not plan to adopt the Code of Conduct for United States Judges through a formal resolution,’ and referenced [his] 2011 Year-End Report, in which [he] said ‘the Court has had no reason to adopt the Code of Conduct as its definitive source of ethical guidance.’”
At the time he refused to adopt the code of conduct, Roberts has to have known what Thomas was doing, at least in part—in fact, as the Democrats’ letter notes, media coverage of a 2011 committee hearing on Supreme Court ethics mentioned Thomas’ “acceptance of favors from a contributor in Texas, Harlan Crow.”,
And Roberts was refusing to do anything about ethics back when he plausibly might have had a little bit of authority over the court. These days, with the court’s far-far-right ascendant, there’s no evidence that Roberts’ concerns for the court’s legacy and reputation carry any weight—and Roberts’ concerns on that front obviously aren’t strong enough to push for stronger ethics rules in any case.
“It is troubling that your 2011 year-end report, which dismissed the call for the Justices to adopt the Code of Conduct, was written notwithstanding the known concerns about Mr. Crow’s largesse,” the Judiciary Committee Democrats write. “This problem could have been resolved then.” And there’s a reason it wasn’t.
The Judiciary Committee Democrats are planning a committee hearing “regarding the need to restore confidence in the Supreme Court’s ethical standards,” they write. “And if the Court does not resolve this issue on its own, the Committee will consider legislation to resolve it.” Legislation which Republicans will certainly block, because after all the other popular measures they’ve blocked, does anyone seriously think they’ll worry about being seen supporting corruption on the Supreme Court?
Another letter from 22 House and Senate Democrats is far more sternly worded, putting Crow’s gifts to Thomas in the context of a broader right-wing lobbying effort to influence the conservative justices and citing the fact that “the American people’s trust in the Supreme Court has plummeted to an all-time low.”
But asking Roberts to investigate ethical lapses in which his own failure of leadership is implicated and impose a code of conduct he has flatly rejected in the past won’t cut it. If any of the liberal justices were doing anything a fraction as corrupt as Clarence Thomas, it would be getting hours of Fox News coverage every day and would be elevated to a major election issue through sheer volume and repetition. Once again, we see the need for Democrats to learn to emulate Republicans—not in their corruption or their contempt for democracy, but in their willingness to make a racket. Most of all, though, we see how unconstrained by any meaningful rules the Supreme Court is, and how urgent it is for Democrats to find a way to rein it in.
Reporting on lavish trips struck a nerve: Clarence Thomas issues defensive statement
Drip, drip, drip: The Supreme Court’s legitimacy is eroding by the day
Our planned Ukraine episode will have to wait, as Donald Trump is being arraigned in New York City for his role in falsifying records to hide hush money paid to Stormy Daniels. This is the first of a potential slew of indictments coming Trump’s way, and we are here for a celebration of karmic justice—and to talk about what happens to the Republican Party after this.