The Supreme Court’s 2015 term recently ended. The Court issued landmark decisions — most notably the expansion of marriage equality across the country and the preservation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – that Americans celebrated across the country.
But the incendiary dissents against marriage equality issued by conservative justices, especially by Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, along with the Court’s terrible decision to gut the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations to limit mercury pollution, highlighted the level of political extremism in the Court’s right wing.1
That extremism comes with a price — confidence in the Supreme Court has reached a record low. According to a recent Gallup poll, only 30% of Americans have trust in the nation’s highest court.2 And it’s hardly any surprise: the nine Supreme Court justices are the only federal judges who do not have a binding code of conduct. They are under no obligation to recuse themselves from cases where they have a conflict of interest and are free to engage in political activity.
A new bill introduced by progressive champion Representative Louise Slaughter, the Supreme Court Ethics Act of 2015, would ensure that Supreme Court judges rule fairly and conduct themselves in ways that uphold the impartiality and integrity of the judiciary.
Unbelievably, Justice Clarence Thomas, whose own interracial marriage would have been illegal in some states without the Supreme Court ruling in Loving v. Virginia, invoked slavery in his gay marriage dissent. Justice Scalia’s dissent called the majority’s decision an attack on democracy, and, with stunning hypocrisy from someone who helped make corporations citizens and George W. Bush president, complained about nine unrepresentative judges making decisions that would impact the whole country. 3
Here are other recent examples of the Court’s conservative justices running amok:
- Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas attended Koch Brothers political functions at a time when the court was considering loosening limits on corporate campaign contributions.4
- Justice Samuel Alito spoke at a fundraising dinner for the conservative American Spectator magazine, where tickets were sold for as much as $25,000 a plate.5
- Justice Thomas failed to report his wife’s income from the Heritage Foundation, even as she lobbied against the Affordable Care Act while cases worked their way to the Supreme Court. He also failed to recuse himself from ACA-related cases despite a clear conflict of interest with his wife’s work.6
Despite mounting pressure on Chief Justice John Roberts to make this change himself, he continues to resist bringing the Supreme Court under a code of conduct. If Chief Justice Roberts won’t address this crisis, then Congress must act to restore the integrity of the court. There’s far too much at stake.
The American public deserves a Supreme Court above partisan politics. We must have confidence that our highest court and ultimate arbiter of justice is not swayed by political ideology or undue influence. It’s time for Congress to act and force the Supreme Court to adopt a code of conduct now. The more of us who stand with Rep. Slaughter, the better the chance that Congress will act to pass this bill.
Sign the petition to the U.S. Congress. It reads:
“Supreme Court Justices Scalia and Thomas have violated the public’s trust and the integrity of the court with political partisanship and conflicts of interest. Pass the Supreme Court Ethics Act of 2015 to hold our nation’s highest court to ethical standards.”
Click the link below to sign the petition:
Thanks for keeping the Supreme Court accountable.
Heidi Hess, Campaign Manager
CREDO Action from Working Assets
Jay Michaelson, “Did The Four Dissenting Justices In Gay Marriage Case Just Suggest Treason?,” Daily Beast, June 27, 2015
Jeffrey Jones, “Confidence in U.S. Institutions below Historical Norms,” Gallup, June 15, 2015.
Zack Ford and Todd Legum, “19 Hysterical Quotes from Supreme Court Same-Sex Marriage Dissenters,” Think Progress, June 26, 2015.
Sam Stein, “Justices Scalia And Thomas’s Attendance At Koch Event Sparks Judicial Ethics Debate,” Huffington Post, October 20, 2010
Jeff Shesol, “Should Justices Keep Their Opinions to Themselves?,” New York Times, June 28, 2011
Vicki Needham, “Records show Justice Thomas didn’t report wife’s income,” The Hill, January 24, 2011
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