Why the U.S. Supreme Court Doesn’t See Its Own Corruption
The U.S. Supreme Court has been under increasing public criticism for several months. Much of it was sparked by a series of articles from Pro Publica and other journalists detailing the justices receiving millions in lavish gifts — vehicles, homes, vacations, private jet flights, etc. — from wealthy conservative “friends” and donors. Public confidence in the Court is at its lowest point in decades.
In response, the Court recently published a code of conduct. This was a first in its 234-year history. While it deserves credit for responding to public pressure to explain seemingly corrupt behavior, the code itself was underwhelming. There is no enforcement mechanism for violations, and little in it is new. It basically codifies what the Court has asserted in the past as its ethics practices. Practices that justices violated multiple times in the past two decades without consequence.
So, all that’s really changed is that the Court is no longer violating an oral code of conduct, it’s violating a written one. That doesn’t feel like much progress to me.
What’s puzzling is that the Court seems to be tone-deaf to these shortcomings. However, when you look at some Court rulings over the past 25 years, this apparent obtuseness takes on a new light. During that time, it ruled in multiple decisions that giving gifts to public officials was not corrupt unless there was a direct quid pro quo public act done in return. It made these rulings while multiple justices were receiving lavish gifts from donors with potential interests before the court.
Simply put, rulings in the past few decades would support the the argument that the Supreme Court isn’t corrupt because it’s changed the definition of corruption.
I highly recommend the New York Times article excerpted below. It puts the Court’s actions into the context of past rulings where they have gradually watered down anti-corruption safeguards. A key…