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Tag: Harlan Crow

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)

New Supreme Court Ethics Code Is Designed to Fail

#SCOTUSiscorrupt

By Michael Waldman

The Supreme Court announced yesterday that the justices will subject themselves to a code of ethics. It is, in some ways, welcome news.

But the code comes with a whiff of condescension. The justices only took this step, they explain, because of some “misunderstanding” by the public about their probity. It’s not accountability — it’s the appearance of accountability. The Supreme Court has been the only court in the country without a binding ethics code. Now it has one of the country’s weakest. These new rules are more loophole than law.

The idea behind an ethics code is simple: nobody is wise enough to be the judge in their own case. Yet the justices will still judge themselves. There is no mechanism to enforce the code — no arbiter to enforce, apply, or even interpret these rules. And the Brennan Center and other reformers have urged a variety of possible ways to do this. One idea is to bring in retired judges to advise on or even decide issues. There are other ideas as well. This code adopts none of them.

The rules themselves are weak. Consider recusal, when justices step aside from considering a case. The justices took the rule that applies to lower court judges but then inserted a handful of new loopholes, including one that could be so big that it swallows the rule — allowing a justice to disregard a required recusal if they think their vote is needed in the case. And the financial disclosure rules haven’t tightened at all — a significant shortcoming, since the justices have proven themselves troublingly adept at sidestepping the current rules, whether for RVs, tuition, fishing trips, or real estate deals.

If the Court is to hold itself to the highest ethical standards, as Chief Justice John Roberts has repeatedly said is his aim, the justices must do more. Real financial transparency. Recusal whenever a conflict of interest creates the appearance of bias. Most importantly, an external body to tell us when a justice has fallen afoul of the rules. That’s what checks and balances are all about.

Still, this is a big moment. Public trust in the Court has collapsed to the lowest level ever recorded. The Senate Judiciary Committee was on the verge of issuing subpoenas to Harlan Crow, Clarence Thomas’s benefactor. Lawmakers were making noise about passing an ethics code if the justices did not act first. Public pressure can matter.

There were hints in the explanatory essay that accompanied the rules that there may be more to come. Let’s hope so. The Supreme Court faces a historic crisis of legitimacy, one of the justices’ own making. Yesterday’s code of ethics is the Court’s opening bid — the bare minimum to pacify an angry public.

Let’s keep up the pressure.

 

“America has the best politicians money can buy.” Best judges too.

The humorist Will Rogers once noted that “America has the best politicians money can buy.” It appears that we have the best judges too.

The humorist Will Rogers once noted that “America has the best politicians money can buy.” It appears that we have the best judges too.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Consumer Financial Protection Bureau v. Community Financial Services Association of America, a lawsuit filed by predatory payday lenders seeking to strike down the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) independent funding mechanism—and by extension, the Bureau itself. The case, in which the agency is appealing a far-right Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling last October, could have catastrophic impacts if the Roberts Court sides with the payday lender plaintiffs. As the Prospect’s David Dayen has noted, the Fifth Circuit’s ruling “threatens the functioning of daily life,” as its radical interpretation of the Constitution’s Appropriations Clause would gut not only the CFPB (triggering a 2008-like mortgage market meltdown), but also many other regulatory agencies and federal programs without traditional appropriations—including Medicare, Social Security, and the Federal Reserve.

An obvious backdrop to this high-stakes case is the mounting ethics scandals of the Court’s conservative justices. Take Justice Samuel Alito, for example. Hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer—who took Alito on a luxury Alaska fishing trip—holds at least $90 million in financial companies overseen by the CFPB. Alito has thus far failed to recuse himself from the case.

The ethics conflicts are even worse for Justice Clarence Thomas, who has also failed to recuse. According to ProPublica, Thomas has secretly attended at least two donor events for conservative billionaire Charles Koch’s political advocacy organization and is seen as a “fundraising draw” for the Koch network. Americans for Prosperity Foundation, one of the Koch empire’s many advocacy arms, has filed an amicus brief in CFPB v. CFSA calling the Bureau a “threat [to] liberty” and “mockery of the separation of powers.” Another anti-CFPB amicus filer in the case is none other than John Eastman, a former Thomas law clerk who is currently facing disbarment proceedings and a criminal indictment for trying to help Donald Trump overturn the 2020 election results. Eastman has previously tried to leverage his connections with Thomas to his benefit, corresponding with Thomas’s wife Ginni (a notably unhinged electoral fraud conspiracy theorist) in the run-up to the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

On top of all these egregious violations of elementary judicial ethics, our research revealed another ethics controversy surrounding Thomas and CFPB v. CFSA that has thus far escaped close scrutiny. It concerns Thomas’s central role in the Horatio Alger Association, an exclusive circle of wealthy business elites that gave Thomas lavish undisclosed gifts. In return, Thomas has granted the Alger Association rare annual private use of the Supreme Court chambers for its new-member induction ceremony—an event that Thomas personally hosts every year. The Alger Association has publicly promoted the Thomas-hosted Supreme Court ceremony in its fundraising materials, an act frowned upon by Court officials. According to a review of the Alger Association’s members conducted by the Revolving Door Project, at least 18 Alger members have either previously expressed an interest in weakening the CFPB or stand to gain from the Court gutting the Bureau. These wealthy elites span multiple sectors overseen by the CFPB and include some of its most prominent recurring opponents.

Though we at the Revolving Door Project called for Thomas’s and Alito’s recusal from this case in light of these ethics scandals, the Court’s well-established contempt for accountability and integrity offers little hope they will heed our advice. Should both of them persist in hearing CFPB v. CFSA on Tuesday despite their glaring conflicts of interest, the case for their impeachment and for rebalancing the Court to create an ethical majority will become even stronger.

The corporate elites and right-wing ideologues who populate the Alger Association’s membership roster clearly have a lot to gain from gutting the CFPB. Clarence Thomas has enjoyed the comically elitist connections and lavish undisclosed gifts of the Alger Association for over 30 years.  Are we really to believe that Thomas never once discussed issues of financial regulation and corporate law enforcement during decades of hobnobbing with America’s top bankers, investors, and lenders behind closed doors? Please. The fact that Thomas did not fully disclose his Alger activities and gifts from the very beginning, or the other Caligula-esque largesse he has received from other billionaire patrons—all while carefully constructing an aw-shucks persona as a guy who prefers to hang out in Walmart parking lots in his RV—speaks for itself.

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Clarence Thomas Has Yet Another Huge Conflict of Interest

Friends of the Court

“We are in a society where everything is quid pro quo,” Thomas said

During his three decades on the Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas has enjoyed steady access to a lifestyle most Americans can only imagine. A cadre of industry titans and ultrawealthy executives have treated him to far-flung vacations aboard their yachts, ushered him into the premium suites at sporting events and sent their private jets to fetch him — including, on more than one occasion, an entire 737. It’s a stream of luxury that is both more extensive and from a wider circle than has been previously understood.

Like clockwork, Thomas’ leisure activities have been underwritten by benefactors who share the ideology that drives his jurisprudence. Their gifts include:

At least 38 destination vacations, including a previously unreported voyage on a yacht around the Bahamas; 26 private jet flights, plus an additional eight by helicopter; a dozen VIP passes to professional and college sporting events, typically perched in the skybox; two stays at luxury resorts in Florida and Jamaica; and one standing invitation to an uber-exclusive golf club overlooking the Atlantic coast.

Do you have any tips on the Supreme Court? Brett Murphy can be reached by email at brett.murphy@propublica.org and by Signal or WhatsApp at 508-523-5195. Justin Elliott can be reached by email at justin@propublica.org or by Signal or WhatsApp at 774-826-6240. Josh Kaplan can be reached by email at joshua.kaplan@propublica.org and by Signal or WhatsApp at 734-834-9383.

This accounting of Thomas’ travel, revealed for the first time here from an array of previously unavailable information, is the fullest to date of the generosity that has regularly afforded Thomas a lifestyle far beyond what his income could provide. And it is almost certainly an undercount.

 
Clarence Thomas’ 38 Vacations: The Other Billionaires Who Have Treated the Supreme Court Justice to Luxury Travel

Fix the Damn Court

To get confirmed, Alito pledged to follow an anti-corruption law that he later ignored — now he says Congress can't regulate the Supreme Court.

To get confirmed, Alito pledged to follow an anti-corruption law that he later ignored — now he says Congress can’t regulate the Supreme Court.

As the Senate considers legislation requiring the Supreme Court to adopt a code of ethics, Justice Samuel Alito recently insisted that lawmakers do not have “the authority to regulate the Supreme Court — period,” claiming that this is an issue he and his fellow justices “have all thought about.”

But when Alito and most of his colleagues were trying to secure their confirmations to the high court, they promised the Senate Judiciary Committee they would adhere to ethics laws from Congress that regulate justices’ acceptance and disclosure of gifts, limit their outside employment income, and mandate recusal in some circumstances.

If Alito or any of the other justices had argued during their confirmation processes that Congress can’t regulate the Supreme Court, or that justices are not obligated to obey ethics laws, they may not have been approved by the Senate.

Responding to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s questionnaire in 2005, Alito wrote: “If confirmed, in matters involving recusal I would seek to follow the Code of Conduct for United States Judges (although it is not formally binding on justices of the Supreme Court of the United States), the Ethics Reform Act of 1989, 28 U.S.C. § 455, and any other relevant guidelines.”

As ProPublica has reported, at least two current Supreme Court justices — Alito and Clarence Thomas — have apparently failed to comply with a federal gift law that Alito pledged to follow.

The Fixes – Fix the Court

The Breathtaking Hypocrisy of Justice Alito

#scotusiscorrupt

#scotusiscorrupt

The hedge fund of Justice Samuel Alito’s billionaire benefactor has been using a recent Alito-backed Supreme Court ruling to try to pressure federal regulators to back off new financial rules designed to fight fraud, according to documents reviewed by The Lever.

The hedge fund, Elliott Management, has been arguing that the rules are unconstitutional, and could ultimately try to bring a case before Alito to strike down the new regulations if they are enacted. The high court is currently considering a petition to hear a separate case involving the same firm.

ProPublica this week reported that Elliott Management founder, president, and co-CEO Paul Singer provided an undisclosed private jet flight to Alito, and has been a major donor to the Judicial Crisis Network, a dark money group that has funded campaigns to install conservative judges throughout the judiciaryincluding Alito. The justice has declined to recuse himself in past cases involving the hedge fund.

In early June, the SEC finalized part of the proposed anti-fraud rule but just reopened the public comment period for the disclosure rule that Elliott was fighting.

Nonetheless, the SEC’s proposed rules set up a potential court battle between the agency and Elliott, which could ultimately be decided in part by Singer’s Alaska fishing partner, Alito.

Elliott’s efforts to weaponize a recent Supreme Court case to block anti-fraud rules — and to potentially use the high court to kill them — spotlights how judges are in key positions to help billionaires who provide them with gifts and other largesse.

Alito Could Deliver Another Ruling For Billionaire Benefactor

Are you rich enough to deserve free speech or the right to vote?

On Nov. 14, 2008, the Supreme Court ruling in “Citizens United” gave corporations the same rights as American citizens by allowing corporations to contribute unlimited amounts of money to political campaigns. The Supreme Court did this by defining money as free speech.

Doesn’t money as free speech promote multiple votes for some citizens and only one vote for others? Doesn’t money as free speech defeat the essential idea of democracy? Even if such nonsense made sense, does it make sense for a corporate officer to vote once as himself and a second time as the corporation? Isn’t that “one man, two votes”?

Steve Schmidt and ProPublica writer Justin Elliott discuss ProPublica’s latest reporting on Justice Samuel Alito taking a luxury fishing vacation with GOP billionaires who later had cases before the Supreme Court. They also discuss Clarence Thomas’ previous conflicts of interest, if this corruption goes on with all Supreme Court Justices, and what the Court can do to regain the trust of the American people.

00:00 – What is ProPublica?

03:04 – Investigating Samuel Alito & Clarence Thomas

09:28 – Harlan Crowe’s involvement

14:17 – Samuel Alito’s corruption

38:30 – Steve Schmidt’s first-hand experience with Samuel Alito

46:00 – Are the other Supreme Court Justices corrupt?

Crows Of A Feather

Clarence Thomas’ benefactor is directly tied to a disastrous new Supreme Court ruling that will strip environmental protections from millions of acres of precious wetlands.

Despite being caught in a swirling corruption scandal, the Supreme Court continues to rule on cases and issue far-reaching decisions that shatter years of precedent to rewrite the country’s laws. For the moneyed interests who have spent big to financially influence the courts, this is very much according to plan. One of the court’s latest bombshell rulings shows just how handsomely the effort is paying off.

Late last month, in a 5-4 ruling on the Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency case, the Supreme Court dramatically narrowed the scope of the 1972 Clean Water Act in an act of judicial activism so brazen, even the Donald Trump-appointed Brett Kavanaugh accused the court of “rewriting” the law and failing to “stick to the text.”

To do so, Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the majority, simply disposed of the statute’s deliberately broad coverage of wetlands that are “adjacent” to “waters of the United States,” redefining that word as meaning “adjoining” — a different word with a different meaning — and claiming that only wetlands with a “continuous surface connection” to protected waters were covered by the Clean Water Act. Environmental groups say it will take away protections for more than half of the country’s 118 million acres of wetlands.

The point, Schneck explained, was to create what Politico termed an “ecosystem of support” that would encourage them to be bolder in their judicial activism. Sometimes that would benefit the benefactors by opening the door to imposing their personal, regressive social vision on others. Sometimes it would benefit them by directly assisting their personal business interests, as it has in the Sackett case, which will make it easier for Crow’s companies and other real estate developers to disrupt and damage wetlands without legal or regulatory challenge.

That decision — widely criticized for its linguistic games and overturning of long-standing precedent — is directly tied up in the corruption scandal that has embroiled Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in particular.

Clarence Thomas’ Billionaire Benefactor Tied To SCOTUS Bombshell

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