Supreme Sleaze? The Need for an Ethics Code in the Supreme Court

In a sequence of events that reads like a script for a political thriller, our Supreme Court’s credibility has taken a severe hit. Revelations have emerged about the dubious antics of Justice Samuel Alito who, as ProPublica exposed on June 20, had been indulging in an Alaskan fishing trip on GOP billionaire Paul Singer’s private jet. What’s more, he later presided over cases involving Singer, including Singer v. Argentina.

Sound familiar? The Alito expose closely follows ProPublica’s revealing reports on Justice Clarence Thomas, who apparently enjoys “luxury vacations” courtesy of another GOP billionaire, Harlan Crow.

These revelations have fueled a growing chorus calling for the Supreme Court Justices to adopt an ethics code. Leading this charge is Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), despite the reluctance of Chief Justice John Roberts to consider such a measure.

On the morning of June 22, Durbin appealed to Roberts via MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, a former GOP congressman, and Mika Brzezinski. He urged Roberts to “step up and announce there will be a code of ethics for the Supreme Court, and that the disclosure laws will apply and they will follow at least the same rules as every other federal judge in America.” He emphasized that failing to do so would further undermine the reputation of the Court.

When questioned if Alito should have stepped aside in the Singer v. Argentina case considering his relationship with Singer, Durbin made it clear that he saw a recusal as the ethical course of action.

“This is substantial… This is the bottom line as far as I see it,” said Durbin. His argument is that the questionable actions of Justices like Alito mirror those of Justice Thomas, suggesting a pervasive attitude within the Supreme Court: “It’s none of our business. No one needs to know when conflicts of interest occur.”

It’s high time to shine a spotlight on this shadowy area of Supreme Court practice. Supreme Court Justices must be held to the same standard as all federal judges and embrace a stringent code of ethics. The integrity of our highest court is on the line, and for the sake of justice, reform is desperately needed.