Sunday, May 26, 2024

Opinion | Our Supreme Court justices place themselves above the law

Opinion | Our Supreme Court justices place themselves above the law

Regarding Ruth Marcus’s April 27 op-ed, “Silence from the court, where ethics have gone awry”:

The Statement of Ethics signed by the nine Supreme Court justices ironically illustrates the ethical void in which the court operates. It acknowledges that each justice may “consult a wide variety of authorities” or “seek advice from” others on a specific ethical issue. It also makes quite clear, however, that no rules apply to justices. Even the lower-court Code of Conduct, while “of significant importance to the Justices,” is both not binding and subject to differing interpretations by each individual Jjustice.

The statement asserts that “Justices have followed the financial disclosure requirements,” which recent reporting has documented as false with respect to at least two of the justices.

But perhaps the most troublesome aspect of the statement is the discussion of recusal. It offers excuses for no recusal without any mention of the disqualification statute mandating that “any justice … shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned,” including disqualification where either the justice or a spouse has any interest in the subject matter of the proceeding. Justice Clarence Thomas’s failure to recuse in cases involving the 2020 election, just as Justice Antonin Scalia’s 2004 failure to recuse after duck-hunting with Vice President Dick Cheney while his case was pending, are clear violations of this law. The standard is whether impartiality might reasonably be questioned by members of the public, not whether the justice himself believes his impartiality is above reproach.

The statement lays bare the court’s view that justices are, in fact, above the law, statutory requirements for mere mortals be damned.

Barbara Holland, Bryn Mawr, Pa.

Long ago, when I was a young airman in the Air Force, I was informed that I must not only avoid an actual conflict of interest, but I must also avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest between my personal affairs and my government duties. That requirement seemed obvious and necessary to me at that time, and it is still valid today.

Therefore, I cannot understand why Supreme Court justices, who hold positions of the highest trust in the U.S. government, are unwilling to hold themselves to the same standard of conduct. We are told that “no one is above the law.” Similarly, no one should be allowed to be above such fundamental standards of conduct.

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