After listening two weeks ago to From and Fuller discuss alleged ethical missteps on the U.S. Supreme Court, I applauded their insights and felt angry about the court’s dysfunctional moral compass. We must countenance political decisions and disreputable personal behavior on the highest court of the land.
Fuller bemoaned lack of awareness on the part of Justices Alito and Thomas for accepting expensive trips from wealthy hosts without considering the consequences of the appearance of conflict of interest. This observation is spot-on.
From focused on the need for specified terms for the justices, who serve for life with little or no accountability. He might be on to something. However, the intention was to establish independence. The concern now are the low approval numbers for the Supreme Court (SC) promulgated by decisions that smack of pure politics. The reversal of Roe v. Wade, empowering states to set their own guidelines for abortion, was troubling in its politically conservative overtones.
Both From and Fuller pointed to expensive trips by members of Congress, funded without restrictions by PACs. Their point was clear: the environment in Washington is rife with questionable prerogatives.
For me, the prime culprit is greed, prompted by a lack of an ethical code for the Supreme Court and a sense of entitlement by justices held harmless by the public. Trust in government institutions, including the lofty Supreme Court, continues to erode.
Members of the Supreme Court generally migrate from executive-level government jobs to private practice to federal judgeships. Any reasonable person would surmise that these men and women consider ethical behavior a prerequisite of their jobs.
We have learned that supposition is dead wrong.
Justice Thomas has accepted extravagant trips and gifts from a conservative Texas friend who happens to be exceedingly wealthy. He has more than a passing interest in SC decisions. The same is true of Justice Alito who adamantly rejects the idea he may have erred ethically by traveling on a private plane owned by a rich hedge fund owner.
Both claim they abided by rules existing at the time they committed their transgressions.
Situational awareness is sadly lacking. As Craig Fuller opined, the appearance of conflict of interest is as damning as an actual act. Anyone engaged in public service learns quickly that ethical standards are sacrosanct. Cross the line, and your career can be threatened.
When an Annapolis lobbyist invited me to lunch, I insisted on paying for my lunch. He seemed amused, suggesting facetiously that I could pay for his lunch too. He obviously thought it silly to quibble over an inexpensive meal. I disagreed. My self-righteousness was justified.
A seat on the Supreme Court demands probity, intelligence, diligence and common sense. Acceptance of gifts makes a mockery of the latter. It drives the public to distrust a once highly respected institution. Its decisions then become open to doubt and cynicism.
While term-limited justices may not feel as comfortable and confident deprived of life terms, mischief and misdeeds are still possible. A strict code of conduct would be helpful. So would an ingrained sense of propriety. So would an ethics counselor.
Greed is a terrible vice. Expensive trips and gifts are tempting. They also raise the specter of influence peddling.
The Supreme Court needs a moral cleansing. The sooner the better.
The Supreme Court’s decision last week nullifying affirmative action admission policies at Harvard and University of North Carolina was troubling. The 6-3 decision by the six conservative justices particularly affects selective schools, such as those in the Ivy League.
The unfortunate result will be a drop in the number of Black and Hispanic and rise in Asian and White students. Fifty years of progress in diversity will come to a halt in academia and the private sector.
Our nation’s highest court continues to serve as an arm of the Republican Party.
Two schools of thought, both based upon the 14th Amendment, govern the majority and minority opinions. While the conservatives view equal protection under the law as negating affirmative action (carve-outs), the liberals opine that equal protection equates to equal opportunity (specifically undertaken) at the nation’s elite schools.
For the sake of clarity, the conservatives interpret equal protection as requiring a race-blind posture. In other words, discrimination has a finite life. Affirmation action is unnecessary. Doing nothing to address systemic racism is preferable to Chief Justice Roberts and his right-wing cronies.
The three liberal justices believe that racism in ingrained in American culture. To minimize it, or destroy its inherent roadblocks to education and socioeconomic progress, the law of the land must stipulate that equal opportunity embodies a clear-minded acceptance that racism, though subtle, is intolerable.
I have heard my share of anger about diversity and its limiting legacy admissions. I empathize with my fellow college alumni disgruntled by rejection of their grandchildren. However, being serious about attacking discrimination necessitates intentional action to level an uneven playing field.
The Supreme Court decision is a setback. Its proponents argue that progressive policies are “woke.” They refuse to view themselves as obstructionists. Discrimination will disappear in time. Totally unrealistic.
The six justices and their supporters are misguided jurists. Our nation consequently suffers.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. After 44 years in Easton, Howard and his wife, Liz, moved in November 2020 to Annapolis, where they live with Toby, a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel who has no regal bearing, just a mellow, enticing disposition.