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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)
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.”
APR’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.
Dark money: The backstory of Alabama’s redistricting defiance
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.”
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Sen. Whitehouse Calls For Ethics Probe Into Supreme Court Justice Alito
Leonard 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
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