Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing Fails to Impugn SCOTUS Ethics
Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing Fails to Impugn SCOTUS Ethics 5-3-23

Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Supreme Court ethics reform. It was the latest crest in a wave of campaigns to place the court under closer supervision by a liberal-controlled Senate.

In the wake of the hearing, however, such legislation appears unlikely to pass.

Senators from both parties used this opportunity for political grandstanding. But Democrats failed to make a compelling case for their proposed legislation to police the Court. Senators Durbin, Whitehouse, Blumenthal, and company did not establish a compelling record of bribery or corrupted judicial decisions. (Nor did they mention the wide-ranging ethical scandals haunting their own colleagues on the committee.) Instead, they mostly resorted to tired talking points about “corrupt politicians in robes.”

Meanwhile, the Conservatives on the committee, ranging from Senator Hawley to Senator Kennedy, decried attempts for Congress to police the Justices’ conduct. Senator Lee panned such efforts as “bullying threats and intimidation tactics.” Last week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConell also said that his caucus was exhausted with the “never-ending attempts to smear and defame justices appointed by Republican presidents.”

Liberals on the committee have been desperate to build credibility for their nakedly partisan attacks on the Court. That was their purpose in convening this hearing in the first place. Originally, the Chairman Dick Durbin attempted to call Chief Justice Roberts before the hearing to browbeat him about the Court’s ethical standards. But the Chief, as the leader of a separate branch of government, declined. Moreover, before the committee convened, all nine Justices signed a joint statement resolving that the Court is capable of policing its own affairs.

Nonetheless, leading into these hearings, the media made a concerted effort to amplify concerns about the Justices’ inability to govern their own activities. Last month, the press attacked the conservative Justices on a near-daily basis. Several especially aggressive and unconvincing reports stand out, including:

  • April 6th: ProPublica reports on Justice Thomas’ longtime friendship with billionaire Harlan Crowe, focusing on the alleged impropriety of their joint family vacations.
  • April 13th: ProPublica decries Justice Thomas’ sale of his elderly mother’s home.
  • April 25th: The New York Times reports that Justice Gorsuch had a stake in an LLC which sold real estate to a lawyer.
  • April 30th: The New York Times discloses that conservative Supreme Court Justices had established relationships with the Antonin Scalia Law School.

These hit pieces were based on weak factual premises, and have almost  all  been debunked.

But this slurry of reporting against the Justices had nothing to do with “facts” or ethical standard. The Left used these reports to intimidate the Court’s conservative justices and undermine their independence.[1] In particular, these articles manufactured ammunition for the Senators sitting on today’s hearing.

Unfortunately, the legal profession has not sufficiently pushed back against these attacks on judicial independence. In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, Justice Alito raised concerns over this lack of defense:

Justice Alito says “this type of concerted attack on the court and on individual justices” is “new during my lifetime. . . . We are being hammered daily, and I think quite unfairly in a lot of instances. And nobody, practically nobody, is defending us. The idea has always been that judges are not supposed to respond to criticisms, but if the courts are being unfairly attacked, the organized bar will come to their defense.” Instead, “if anything, they’ve participated to some degree in these attacks.”

As members of the Supreme Court Bar, Landmark’s attorneys are prepared to take up this mantle of defending the Court’s integrity. We are committed to defending our Justices and the Constitution they are entrusted to guard.

The hearings, far from revealing the alleged corruption of Supreme Court Justices, underscored just how far the Left will go in their quest to subvert our constitutional institutions. Outraged that the Court will no longer impose liberal policies by judicial fiat, they now seek to reshape the institution itself.

Landmark strongly denounces any such efforts.

[1] As a case study of this issue, we recently dove deep into the motivated allegations against Justice Thomas. That blog post can be found here.




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