The Washington Post is running some pretty scary stuff this morning about out Supreme Court justices. Rather than the cloistered, nearly unrecognizable justices like retired John Paul Stevens, these younger ones are acquiring an almost cult like following. For example:
At the invitation of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Scalia will be addressing new conservative members of the House of Representatives. To them, Scalia is a nothing short of a rock star. He personifies not only conservative values but a new model for the Supreme Court: the celebrity justice.
Where Scalia has ventured with crowd-pleasing rhetoric, other justices are following. They rally their bases on the right or the left with speeches, candid interviews, commencement addresses and book tours. They appear to be abandoning the principle of strict neutrality in public life, long a touchstone of service on the highest court.
Whatever happened to court neutrality? It sounds like cases are predetermined, before they are even heard. Why would Justice Scalia appear before conservative members of the House of Representatives only? When will they start accepting honoraria?
The Bachmann event takes this posturing to a new level. Scalia will be directly advising new lawmakers who came to Congress on a mission to remake government in a more conservative image. Many of them made pledges to repeal health-care reform, restrict immigration and investigate the president – pledges based on constitutional interpretations that might end up before the court.
At best, Scalia’s appearance can be viewed as a pep talk. At worst, it smacks of a political alliance.
At best, this behavior is conflict of interest. The three branches of government need to remain independent. It certainly doesn’t seem very conservative to allow this kind of cross pollination. Perhaps ‘conservative’ is just a label of convenience.
…Scalia is the first real celebrity justice. When he appears at conservative events, supporters line up to greet a man who seems more oracle than orator. They are drawn not just to his originalist views but to the sense that he is a purist on a court of relativists. And his fans are often rewarded with a zinger from the justice that would set the hair of every liberal on fire.
Clarence Thomas’ wife was also a Tea Party Leader and even went so far as to call and leave a message for Professor Anita Hill. This unseemly behavior also removes that air neutrality from the court process. Should there be rules for spouses?
It’s time for the Supreme Court to return to its more somber, isolated days where the justices were removed from the scuttle-butt and kerfuffle of politics. Certainly they should not be part of fund raisers or appearing at any functions as a speaker that aren’t academic in nature. The WaPo explains further:
Justices who flaunt their politics publicly do more than just lecture – they also can raise cash for ideological allies. Scalia and Thomas have reportedly attended events funded by conservative billionaires David and Charles Koch. Last week, that he “dropped by” a Koch session in 2008. Both justices were even featured in Koch promotional material with Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh.
Does anyone out there see some conflict of interest or is it just me? It isn’t just the conservative justices who behave like this. Justice Ginsberg and Breyer both speak before outside groups. It just should not be happening. Lower court justices and judges are prevented from this kind of behavior. Justice Alito says it doesn’t matter. The Washington Post and I disagree:
But it is important. Perhaps not to Alito or Scalia, but to the court. If justices come to personify political movements, the law appears to be merely an extension of the personalities – and the politics – on the bench.
Some judicial commentary and appearances raise serious ethical questions. Canon 4 of the judicial Code of Conduct states that a federal judge should not take part in any activities that “reflect adversely on the judge’s impartiality.” This canon specifically warns that “a judge should not personally participate in fund-raising activities, solicit funds for any organization, or use or permit the use of the prestige of judicial office for that purpose.”
But this code applies only to lower-court judges; the members of the highest court in the land are not, in fact, subject to any code of conduct. The only direct limitation is the federal law that requires a judge or a justice to “disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” This law, however, lacks a process for making a complaint and has never been enforced against a justice. Each justice is left to be the judge of his or her own alleged misconduct.
Is it time for Congress to codify some behavior standards for our esteemed Supreme Court? Perhaps this might be just a little more important than trying to regulate a teen series on MTV. I would like to think that each decision made by the high court has been made based on previous cases and the Constitution, not the whims of a various political party or special lobby.