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Tag: Federalist Society

SCOTUS’s “ethics code” provides cover for corruption

It’s weak sauce – which was the goal all along.

After unrelenting pressure from everyone but Republicans, who by and large are thrilled that Supreme Court justices can be bought, the Court has issued a voluntary, non-binding code of conduct.

Of course, a non-binding code is no code at all, which is the problem here. As long as the members of the Court see themselves as above petty things like rules, the corruption of the institution will not change.

Even the first page of the document (why call it a code when it is not a code?) displays what can only be described as a fit of pique about having to put out anything at all:

“The absence of a Code, however, has led in recent years to the misunderstanding that the Justices of this Court, unlike all other jurists in this country, regard themselves as unrestricted by any ethics rules. To dispel this misunderstanding, we are issuing this Code, which largely represents a codification of principles that we have long regarded as governing our conduct.”

This is laughable, of course, as it implies that the public’s issues with the justices are grounded only in the fact that the rules governing the Court’s conduct were not codified, as if the public had been searching in vain on the Court’s website for it. Rather, the issue is that two justices in particular — Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas— have benefited from the largesse of wealthy Republicans who have business before the Court.

So, the impetus for the code was not that the Court suddenly saw the light about ethics. Instead, it’s designed to quash any outside inquiry into the Court — particularly congressional ones — by saying that any ethics concerns are taken care of now. As Steve Vladeck, an expert on the Supreme Court, wrote when the code was released, the code “reflects a rather remarkable lack of contrition or humility” on the part of the justices.

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How SCOTUS’s “ethics code” provides cover for corruption

The Supreme Court’s Objectivity Theater

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via AP Images

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via AP Images

https://prospect.org/justice/2023-11-17-supreme-court-objectivity-theater/

After months of corruption scandals and plummeting public approval, the Supreme Court released a document on November 13 to correct, in its words, the “misunderstanding” that the justices “regard themselves as unrestricted by any ethics rules.” That’s a narrow, and telling, statement of intent—calm down, everyone, we do have ethics rules! There’s just one small qualification: They don’t prohibit any of the things making you mad at us in the first place.

When Congress made tentative noises about providing minor checks and balances on the court, the justices erupted in outrage, telling Congress to go f* itself

Let’s examine the document. It sets out broad, affirmative standards of behavior, few of which are compulsory. As plenty of critics have noted, the word “should” appears 53 times in the code, but the word “must” appears just six times. Just two of those musts involve specific rules, both about obtaining prior approval before being paid for teaching. Similarly, while the document copies a lot of language from the ethics rules for lower courts, Bloomberg Law noticed that the justices struck the word “enforce” from their provisions about maintaining a high standard of conduct. They also cut a mandate to “take appropriate action” if they get “reliable information” that a fellow justice has violated the guidelines.

But the most important omission isn’t a verb in the formal text. While it bans—or at least discourages—justices from leading, speaking, or donating to “political organizations,” unlike the lower courts, the Supreme Court never defines that term.

MUCH more here:

Pluralistic: Red-teaming the SCOTUS code of conduct (17 Nov 2023)

Dark money: The backstory of Alabama’s redistricting defiance

The Alabama Legislature’s open defiance of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Allen v. Milligan ordering the creation of a second majority-Black district baffled and infuriated the federal three-judge panel that initially ordered the state to redraw its 2021 congressional map.

These previously unreported connections between Alabama officials who led the state’s 2023 redistricting process and various players seeking to reshape America may be the reason Alabama’s Republican-controlled legislature gambled on a rehearing before the U.S. Supreme Court in hopes their inside intelligence was right in believing Kavanaugh would change his previous vote in Allen v. Milligan.

APR has now identified connections between Alabama officials who led the 2023 redistricting process — which disregarded the U.S. Supreme Court’s order — with far-right power broker Leonard Leo’s dark money network, described this past week by Politico as “a billion-dollar force that has helped remake the judiciary and overturn longstanding legal precedents on abortion, affirmative action, and many other issues.”

There now appears to be a significant connection between Alabama's post-Milligan map redrawing process, Leo's powerful national dark money network, and KavanaughAPR’s reporting shows the extent to which Alabama’s calculation to defy the Supreme Court was made not simply by state legislators in Alabama but has been driven by nationally connected political operatives at the center of the well-documented right-wing effort to reshape the composition and jurisprudence of the Supreme Court and to overturn the remaining key protections established by the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Despite the organization’s claims that it does not take positions on policies or nominations, former President Donald Trump famously stated that Leo’s Federalist Society had “picked” his judges, and all six Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices “were seated with major help from Leonard Leo,” who has come to be known as the “hidden architect of the Supreme Court.” With few exceptions, the justices Leo has ushered to the bench have reliably voted to permit the partisan gerrymanders and strict restrictions on voting access that have proliferated in recent years from red-state legislatures, which themselves work in tandem with — and sometimes under the direction of — Leo’s dark money groups.

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Dark money: The backstory of Alabama’s redistricting defiance

Sen. Whitehouse’s Ethics Complaint Against Justice Alito

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) lodged an ethics complaint against Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito and implored Chief Justice John Roberts to “adopt a uniform process to address this complaint and others that may arise against any justice in the future.”

The letter came precisely one month after a coalition of 10 Democratic senators, Whitehouse among them, wrote to Roberts with similar concerns about Alito and the high court’s ethics.

Whitehouse’s new complaint stemmed from an interview Alito gave to attorney David Rivkin and Wall Street Journal editor James Taranto for a July 28 opinion piece published in the conservative newspaper.

In addition to writing for The Wall Street Journal, Rivkin is a lawyer for Leonard Leo, the former Federalist Society chief whose links to conservative billionaires and justices like Thomas have made him a target of the Senate Finance Committee’s probe.

Whitehouse argued the timing of the piece was suspicious and suggested “coordination with Mr. Rivkin’s efforts to block our inquiry.”

Download (PDF, 1.11MB)

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Sen. Whitehouse Calls For Ethics Probe Into Supreme Court Justice Alito

Leonard Leo’s In Trouble

Dark money goon Leonard LeoLeonard Leo, everybody’s favorite dark money goon, is under scrutiny: Politico reported that  Washington D.C. Attorney General Brian Schwalb has launched an investigative probe into his sinister network of nonprofit groups.

The Lever has reported extensively on Leo’s shady shenanigans. From stacking the Supreme Court to bankrolling climate denial, eviscerating abortion protections, and championing the right to discriminate, the man truly does it all. But he might finally be starting to get his comeuppance. The probe follows increased media scrutiny and comes after a progressive watchdog group filed a complaint against Leo with the attorney general and the IRS.

Best known as Donald Trump’s White House “court whisperer,” Leo played a behind-the-scenes role in the nominations of all three of the former president’s Supreme Court justices and promoted them through his multi-billion-dollar network of nonprofits. Trump chose his three Supreme Court picks, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, from a list drawn up by Leo. More recently, Leo was the beneficiary of a $1.6 billion contribution, believed to be the biggest political donation in U.S. history.

It’s unclear what the scope of the investigation will be, or how much power the attorney general has to halt Leo’s influence. But hopefully, the move will bring increased scrutiny to the outsized power Leo holds over the conservative legal movement. At the very least, maybe it’ll make him sweat.

D.C. Attorney General is probing Leonard Leo’s network

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