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Tag: SCOTUS

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)

Obama’s former acting Solicitor General and a senator-turned-lobbyist are helping a dark money group pressure the high court.

Deep-pocketed interests are pulling out all the stops — including employing top Democrats to plead their case.
Obama’s former acting Solicitor General and a senator-turned-lobbyist are helping a dark money group pressure the high court.

Obama’s former acting Solicitor General and a senator-turned-lobbyist are helping a dark money group pressure the high court.

The former Supreme Court lawyer for the Obama administration and a Democratic senator-turned-lobbyist are pressuring justices to block Congress from ever instituting a wealth tax on the superrich, according to court filings reviewed by The Lever.

Former Obama acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal recently submitted an amicus brief in the Supreme Court case Moore v. United States on behalf of the group Saving America’s Family Enterprises (SAFE). That anonymously funded group — whose board includes corporate lobbyists — has spearheaded campaigns against Democrats’ efforts to tax the inheritances and wealth of millionaires and billionaires.

Now the group is aiming to use the seemingly obscure corporate taxation case to elicit a broad ruling that outlaws all wealth taxes.

SAFE’s board of directors includes two corporate lobbyists: Missy Edwards and David Lehman. Edwards lobbies for General Motors, the real estate industry, and electric utilities, while Lehman lobbies for defense contractors.

SAFE employs Forbes Tate, a lobbying firm run by former officials from President Bill Clinton’s administration that has coordinated the healthcare industry’s campaign against Medicare for All.

Katyal is an MSNBC mainstay who came to prominence as a liberal defender of Republican President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominees, all of whom will now rule on the case. In recent years, Katyal has helped Nestlé defend itself in a child slavery case before the Supreme Court and represented Johnson & Johnson in its bid to use bankruptcy to block lawsuits from cancer victims.

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Top Dems Press Supreme Court To Block Billionaire Tax

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

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?

Thomas and Alito Voted to Overturn the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act

The Supreme Court has preserved a federal law giving preference to Native American families when it comes to adopting Native children in foster care. The court’s 7-2 ruling Thursday leaves in place the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act, which aims to reverse centuries of government-sanctioned efforts to weaken tribal identity by separating Native American children from their families and raising them outside their tribal cultures.

The law requires states to notify tribes when adoption cases involve their members or children eligible for tribal membership, and to try to place them with their extended family, their tribe or other Native American families. It was enacted to address historic injustices: Before the law took effect, between 25% and 35% of Native American children were being taken from their families and placed with adoptive families, in foster care or in institutions. The majority were placed with white families or in boarding schools in attempts to assimilate them. A series of scandals involving the long-closed boarding schools shed light on government-sanctioned efforts to wipe out Native culture by cutting their hair and forbidding them from speaking their languages.

A ProPublica investigation published the morning of the decision suggests that the law is unevenly applied across the states. The story profiled the case of Cheyenne Hinojosa, a Native American mother in South Dakota who lost her parental rights for one of her children due to the child welfare agency’s failure to follow ICWA. A ProPublica analysis found that in South Dakota, more than 700 Native American children — or about one of every 40 living in the state — experienced the termination of their parents’ rights from 2017 to 2021. It’s one of the highest rates in the country.

The Supreme Court Upheld the Indian Child Welfare Act. The Long Struggle to Implement the Law Continues.

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

Supreme Risk

An interactive guide to rights the Supreme Court has established — and could take away.

by Ian MacDougall and Sergio Hernandez

Last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion established 50 years ago in Roe v. Wade, raising concerns about the future of other rights rooted in Supreme Court rulings. Although most rights are secured by statutes and regulations, others are guarantees extrapolated by the court from the often abstract language of the Constitution. Some of these are recent rights, like the right to carry a handgun in public. But many are longstanding, like the right to be read a Miranda warning by police before being interrogated, and trace their origins to the liberal majorities that presided on the court from the 1950s through the 1970s, an era often called the “rights revolution.” Because these rights were established by the court, the court alone gets to decide whether to preserve, shrink or unmake them.

Right to have police advise you of your rights

To get a better sense of which rights may be at risk — in whole or in part — ProPublica scoured judicial opinions, academic articles, and public remarks by sitting justices. Some justices, like Clarence Thomas, have had decades-long careers and lengthy paper trails. By contrast, Ketanji Brown Jackson, the newest justice, has almost no prior record. We found dozens of rights that at least one sitting justice has questioned:

 

Will Roberts strike a mortal blow to the Voting Rights Act?

Michael Waldman

 

 

 

June is the cruelest month. Tomorrow begins the weeks of decisions to be announced by the Supreme Court as its term draws to a close. Once again we will wait to find out how far the six conservative justices will push — and what kind of country we will live in. I discuss the perils of this moment in my new book, The Supermajority, out next Tuesday.

One of the most important rulings will come in a major case on the Voting Rights Act, Allen v. Milligan. It could also be one of the most damaging. That statute was by some measures the most effective civil rights law on the books. And over the past decade, the Court led by Chief Justice John Roberts has demolished it, bit by bit.

The background of the Voting Rights Act will be familiar to readers of this newsletter. Although the 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, guaranteed Black Americans the right to vote, states found countless ways to deter, dilute, and deny those votes for nearly a century.

Then came Bloody Sunday. Violent attacks on civil rights protesters horrified the nation, awoke a collective sense of justice, and galvanized our political leaders to act. On August 6, 1965, less than five months after the march, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law. It created our modern, multiracial democracy — an American success story.

But in the early 1980s, a young lawyer in the Reagan administration named John Roberts furiously opposed a bill renewing and clarifying the act. He lost that battle, but his war on the law was just beginning. He would in many ways make his crusade against the Voting Rights Act the signature issue of his career.

First came Shelby County v. Holder in 2013. The law’s Section 5 required states with a history of racial discrimination to get permission from the Justice Department or a federal court before changing voting practices. At the argument, Antonin Scalia called this a “racial entitlement.” The audience gasped. Scalia did not write the opinion, though; Roberts did, and he was more decorous. The South had changed, he explained. That was then, this is now. The Court effectively ended Section 5.

Within hours, states began to implement discriminatory voting laws. Texas, for example, implemented a voter identification law that instantly disenfranchised 608,000 registered voters, according to a federal judge.

Weak and wobbly, there was something left of the Voting Rights Act: Section 2. That lets you sue after the fact to prove discriminatory voting practices. Voting rights groups including the Brennan Center began to use it to challenge the new wave of voter suppression laws — with heartening success. We won our case against the Texas law, for example. Then in 2021, in Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee, the Court made it much, much harder to use Section 2 against discriminatory voting laws.

All of which brings us to the upcoming case. For decades, Section 2 has been a potent protection against racial gerrymandering, the drawing of legislative lines to dilute the power of the vote for communities of color. In fact, challenging gerrymandering is the main way Section 2 has been used before. That law’s strength may soon be a memory.

In this case, Alabama’s mapmakers packed as many Black voters as possible into an already existing majority-black district, then surgically distributed the remainder among other districts to ensure that they could not assert political power. Black voters could elect a candid­ate of choice in only one of seven districts despite making up over a quarter of the state’s voting-age popu­la­tion. The Court may bless that. (Talk about “racial entitlements”!)

Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a memorable dissent in Shelby County. She warned, “Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.” In the decade since the white-Black voter turnout gap grew between 9 and 21 percentage points across five of the six states originally covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Maybe other factors caused this gap to grow. But an eviscerated rights law surely won’t help.

On many things, John Roberts has been prudent, canny, and an institutionalist. When it comes to the law of democracy, he has been the activist leader of a disciplined conservative cadre. The supermajority, I fear, is just getting warmed up.

Inside John Roberts’ Decades-Long Crusade Against the Voting Rights Act

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