Tumblr Icon RSS Icon

Rep. Chris Murphy: Thomas Gift Scandal ‘Undermine[s] The Integrity of The Entire Judiciary’

By Ian Millhiser  

"Rep. Chris Murphy: Thomas Gift Scandal ‘Undermine[s] The Integrity of The Entire Judiciary’"

Share:

google plus icon

Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT)

ThinkProgress has obtained a draft letter Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT) circulated this morning to his fellow members of Congress asking the House Judiciary Committee’s leadership to hold a hearing on the Supreme Court Transparency and Disclosure Act, a bill that will end the Supreme Court’s immunity to judicial ethics laws. As Murphy’s letter explains, his bill addresses the bevy of recently revealed ethics scandals involving members of the Supreme Court, including the Clarence Thomas gifting scandal:

There have been alarming reports of justices – most notably Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito – attending political events and using their position to fundraise for organizations. These activities would be prohibited if the justices were required to abide by the Judicial Conference Code of Conduct, which currently applies to all other federal judges. On these issues the code is quite clear. Canon 4C states 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 the judicial office for that purpose.” Additionally, in Canon 5 the code states, “[a] judge must refrain from all political activity.” While we understand that the Supreme Court is unique by its very nature, we do not believe there should be one set of guidelines for Supreme Court justices and stricter standards for all others judges.

The Supreme Court possesses the incredible power to interpret or even strike down laws they deem inconsistent with the Constitution. America trusts them with this power because justices must come to each case without a personal or financial stake in the outcome. Recent revelations about Justice Thomas accepting tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of gifts from individuals and organizations who often have an interest in matters before the courts calls into question the Court’s impartiality. Canon 4D of the Code of Conduct incorporates regulations providing that “[a] judicial officer or employee shall not accept a gift from anyone who is seeking official action from or doing business with the court.” Yet Justice Thomas received a gift valued at $15,000 from an organization that had a brief pending before his Court at the very moment they gave him the gift. Incidents such as these undermine the integrity of the entire judiciary, and they should not be allowed to continue.

In a message attached to the draft letter, Murphy asks his colleagues to join him in signing his request for “Judiciary Committee hearing on the alarming number of reports of possible unethical conduct by Supreme Court justices.” Rep. Murphy’s full draft letter requesting a hearing is copied below the fold.

Update

Murphy is now inviting the public to co-sign his letter. You can do so here.

CHRISTOPHER S. MURPHY
Member of Congress

June XX, 2011

The Honorable Lamar Smith
Chairman
House Judiciary Committee
2138 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC  20515

The Honorable John Conyers, Jr.
Ranking Member
House Judiciary Committee
B-351 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairman Smith and Ranking Member Conyers:

We write to you today to ask that you hold a hearing on HR 862, the Supreme Court Transparency and Disclosure Act.  This commonsense bill would go a long way towards restoring the public’s confidence in the Supreme Court after several recent questionable actions by some of its members.

The Supreme Court must be a neutral arbiter that acts without bias or prejudice.  We the people created our Constitution to “establish justice,” and the promise that Supreme Court justices abide by the rule of law and not political influence or ideology is at the foundation of who we are as a country.

This bedrock principle is important with the prospect that the Supreme Court will eventually rule on the constitutionality of legislation debated by this Congress, like the Affordable Care Act.  Whatever the justices decide, the legitimacy of their decisions depend on whether the American people believe them to be impartial and above any particular political or financial interests.

Yet, there have been alarming reports of justices – most notably Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito – attending political events and using their position to fundraise for organizations.  These activities would be prohibited if the justices were required to abide by the Judicial Conference Code of Conduct, which currently applies to all other federal judges.  On these issues the code is quite clear.  Canon 4C states 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 the judicial office for that purpose.” Additionally, in Canon 5 the code states, “[a] judge must refrain from all political activity.”  While we understand that the Supreme Court is unique by its very nature, we do not believe there should be one set of guidelines for Supreme Court justices and stricter standards for all others judges.

The Supreme Court possesses the incredible power to interpret or even strike down laws they deem inconsistent with the Constitution. America trusts them with this power because justices must come to each case without a personal or financial stake in the outcome. Recent revelations about Justice Thomas accepting tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of gifts from individuals and organizations who often have an interest in matters before the courts calls into question the Court’s impartiality. Canon 4D of the Code of Conduct incorporates regulations providing that “[a] judicial officer or employee shall not accept a gift from anyone who is seeking official action from or doing business with the court.” Yet Justice Thomas received a gift valued at $15,000 from an organization that had a brief pending before his Court at the very moment they gave him the gift. Incidents such as these undermine the integrity of the entire judiciary, and they should not be allowed to continue.

The Supreme Court Transparency and Disclosure Act was introduced to shine a light on these issues.  First, it would apply the Judicial Conference Code of Conduct, which applies to all other federal judges, to Supreme Court Justices.  Currently, the justices only look to this standard as “guidance”.  Second, the bill would require Supreme Court justices to publicly disclose their reasoning behind a recusal when they withdraw from a case and when they refuse to recuse themselves after a motion is made for them to do so.  Lastly, it would require the Judicial Conference to develop a process to review decisions by justices who have refused to step aside from a case.

As Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said, “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants”.  It is time that we apply that same ideal to the Supreme Court.  Again, we urge you to schedule a hearing on HR 862, to help restore the public’s faith in our judicial system and to guarantee the integrity of our country’s highest court.

Sincerely,

‹ Private Prisons Spend Millions On Lobbying To Put More People In Jail

Lawless Torture Memo Author Calls Obama Lawless ›

By clicking and submitting a comment I acknowledge the ThinkProgress Privacy Policy and agree to the ThinkProgress Terms of Use. I understand that my comments are also being governed by Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, or Hotmail’s Terms of Use and Privacy Policies as applicable, which can be found here.