Our highest court shouldn't be held to the lowest standard



Comedipundit Stephen Colbert weighed in on the Clarence Thomas ethics debate in February, providing his own unqiue defense of the Supreme Court Justice’s actions: "Justice Thomas always rules on the side of more corporate influence in our elections. So this trip to Palm Springs wasn’t a bribe–it was a reward!”

BREAKING: Clarence Thomas and Diane Sykes are speaking at a black-tie fundraiser for the Federalist Society this week in violation of the Judicial Code of Ethics -- read the latest on CommonBlog


President Theodore Roosevelt once said: “No man is above the law and no man is below it.” Common Cause is working to carry that principle to our nation’s highest court.


In Congress, at the Supreme Court and at the Department of Justice, Common Cause is pressing for new laws and procedures to make Supreme Court justices live by the same code of ethics that covers other federal judges. While federal law sets broad ethical guidelines for judges, the federal judiciary's Code of Ethics and the specific rules it includes for most other judges do not apply to the Supreme Court. As a result, the justices seem to have an ethical immunity that Common Cause believes is unhealthy for our system of justice.  


Common Cause’s focus on the Supreme Court grew out of a landmark campaign finance case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, that in early 2010 lifted the ban on corporate and union spending on political campaigns. The ruling sent a flood of corporate and undisclosed money into the mid-term elections, drowning out the voices of ordinary Americans. 


Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, who sided with the majority in that case, have ties to a major beneficiary of the decision, Koch Industries, one of the largest privately held corporations in the nation. Brothers Charles and David Koch, who lead the company and spend millions each year on political activism, bragged that Scalia and Thomas were featured guests at political strategy "seminars" the brothers host regularly for members of Congress, political operatives, and big donors.


Because even the appearance of bias undercuts public confidence in our courts, judges aren’t supposed to be involved in political activity. Common Cause asked the Justice Department to investigate and take other steps outlined in this letter.


While looking into the justices’ possible connections to Koch Industries, Common Cause discovered that Justice Thomas failed for several years to report the source of his wife’s income on a federal disclosure form, as required by law. After this was brought to his attention, Thomas amended the filing.


Common Cause supports legislation in the House (H.R. 2902) and Senate (S.1424) that would require the Supreme Court to adopt a code of ethics for the Supreme Court that includes the 5 canons of the Code of Conduct for United States Judges.


These reforms are critical to preserving and strengthening the administration of justice. Action by the court to hold its members to the highest ethical standards will enhance the court’s moral as well as legal authority.



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Common Cause Urges Congress to Approve Supreme Court Ethics Act - 8/1/13

Common Cause Questions Justice Scalia's Speech to Political Group - 6/12/13

Roberts Court Rejection of Code of Ethics is Disappointing - 2/21/12

"This is not acceptable" - 11/15/2011
Hours after considering challenges to health care reform, Supreme Court justices honored at fundraiser sponsored by law firms representing reform opponents - 11/14/2011
Statement for the Record of Common Cause President Bob Edgar on “Considering the Role of Judges Under the Constitution of the United States” - 10/5/2011
Common Cause and Alliance for Justice urge formal investigation of Justice Thomas’ disclosure failures - 10/5/2011
Evidence suggests Justice Thomas flouted federal ethics law - 9/30/2011
Common Cause and Alliance for Justice Ask Judicial Conference to Investigate Potential Violations of Ethics in Government Act by Justice Clarence Thomas - 9/13/2011
Watchdog group files FOIA request for details of Justice Thomas’ jet and yacht travel - 7/7/2011
New York Times story raises questions that need answers - 6/18/2011
Is the Supreme Court Above the Law? - 5/9/2011
Supreme Court should meet same standards applied to other judges - 3/1/2011
Mounting Evidence Demands Explanations from Thomas, Scalia - 2/28/2011
Common Cause seeks details of Justice Thomas' reported "drop-by" at Koch Industries political meeting - 2/15/2011
Common Cause condemns bigotry, hateful statements caught on film at rally - 2/3/2011
Activists to Protest as Billionaires’ Caucus Plans Political Agenda - 1/27/2011
Justice Scalia’s Speech to Closed-Door Tea Party Caucus Session Is Inappropriate Political Activity -1/24/2011
What else haven’t they told us? - 1/21/2011

Common Cause asks Justice Department to Investigate if Scalia, Thomas Should Have Recused Themselves from Citizens United Decision - 1/20/2011




Supreme Conflict -- CommonBlog, 11/13/2013

Scalia's Speech to Secretive Hollywood Political Organization Raises Questions -- CommonBlog, 6/7/13

Ethics, the Unfinished Business in the Supreme Court's New Term -- CommonBlog, 10/12/12

Judicial Ethics and the Supreme Court -- NY Times, 1/5/12

Supreme Court Rejects Formal, Binding Ethics rules -- CNN, 2/21/12

Scalia and Thomas dine with healthcare law challengers as court takes case- LA Times, 11/14/2011

Professors ask Congress for an ethics code for Supreme Court - Washington Post, 2/23/2011
The justices' junkets - Washington Post (editorial), 2/20/2011
Are conservatives endangering the high court? - Washington Post (column), 2/15/2011
Common Cause Asks Court About Thomas Speech - New York Times, 2/14/2011
Justice Thomas’s wife Virginia Thomas now a lobbyist - Politico, 2/5/2011
Justice Thomas’s Wife Sets Up a Conservative Lobbying Shop - New York Times, 2/4/2011
Politics and the Court - New York Times, 2/4/2011
Clarence Thomas revises disclosure forms - Politico, 1/24/2011
Thomas Cites Failure to Disclose Wife’s Job - New York Times, 1/24/2011
Advocacy Group Says Justices May Have Conflict in Campaign Finance Cases - New York Times, 1/20/2011
Reform group: Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas had Citizens United conflicts of interest - Politico, 1/19/2011