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Chief Justice's Annual Report Ducks Judicial Ethics Scandals

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Andrew Kreig
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federal courts function honestly, according to a self-serving annual report on the federal judiciary that Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts issued Dec. 31 in the middle of the New Year's holiday weekend.

Noting at the outset the disgrace that bribery brought to baseball in 1919, Roberts proposed no reforms for the federal judiciary. Roberts said he had "complete confidence" in the integrity of judges, including his colleagues on the Supreme Court.

As chief justice, Roberts presides over both the nine-member Supreme Court and the administrative office of the federal judiciary. His report focused heavily on the need for public confidence in the judiciary. But he recommended nothing more than what he called continued self-discipline by judges.

"Whitewash" is the most obvious description of the Roberts report by those of us documenting flagrant abuses of the public interest by judges. Our Justice Integrity Project, among many others, has documented judges who have been enriched or otherwise co-opted by benefactors and political allies while protected by cronies and toadies.

Reform would be relatively simple in broad outline: Clear standards by the Supreme Court for its own behavior. Additionally, there should be informational oversight hearings by the House Judiciary Committee, with aggressive investigation by the FBI of corruption complaints against dishonest federal judges, whether high or low, Democrat or Republican. Little scrutiny exists currently except for the most obvious crimes.

"The Supreme Court affects the life of every American every day" is conventional wisdom among those who, like author and former clerk Edward Lazarus, understand the court's immense and largely unaccountable power.

Among the dramatic illustrations are the court's review this spring of President Obama's signature health care and insurance reform. Another is likely rubber-stamp of the law he signed Dec. 31 giving Obama the unreviewable power to order the U.S. military to detain without charges or trial indefinitely any American citizen that he suspects of supporting terror.

Roberts timed release of his report for 6 pm. Saturday night on Dec. 31, thus guaranteeing minimal attention from the public aside from those reporters provided advance copies. In the report here, Roberts says:

"I have complete confidence in the capability of my colleagues to determine when recusal is warranted. They are jurists of exceptional integrity and experience whose character and fitness have been examined through a rigorous appointment and confirmation process. I know that they each give careful consideration to any recusal questions that arise in the course of their judicial duties. We are all deeply committed to the common interest in preserving the Court's vital role as an impartial tribunal governed by the rule of law."

Our non-partisan project opposed the confirmation of  Justice Elena Kagan, primarily on civil rights grounds. More specifically, our research suggested that the Democrat was too likely to defer on close calls to her friend President Obama and his successors in the Executive Branch.
These issues arose over this past weekend as the President signed the new defense appropriation with its military detention provisions. He previewed his argument for even more unfettered power in a White House Statement by the President on H.R. 1540. This appears to be precisely the kind of Constitutionally dubious "signing statement" by President Bush that Obama protested during his 2008 campaign.

Regarding additional conflict suspicions pertaining to the Supreme Court, 52 House Democrats are seeking an impeachment investigation of Associate Justice Clarence Thomas for false statements on his judicial disclosure forms that covered up his wife's advocacy income. His false statements on the sworn forms thereby concealed some $1.6 million, primarily his wife's income involving policy advocacy for right-wing positions.

Such conflict issues have become prominent also in the court's decision to examine the constitutionality this spring of President Obama's signature change of health care and insurance law. As reported by the Associated Press:
Republicans want Justice Elena Kagan off the case because of her work in the Obama administration as solicitor general, whereas Democrats say Justice Clarence Thomas should recuse because of his wife's work with groups that opposed changes to the law.

While not mentioning the upcoming health care ruling, or any case in particular, Roberts' year-end report dismissed suggestions that Supreme Court Justices are subject to more lax ethical standards than lower federal courts and said each Justice is "deeply committed" to preserving the Court's role as "an impartial tribunal" governed by law.
The Supreme Court is a highly insular and self-protective body. Its members socialize with one another, refrain from self-criticism or reform, and otherwise protect one another under a shared theory that the Constitution protects all of them from having to justify their behavior to others.
Associate Justice Antonin Scalia has fashioned a self-serving theory that he and others of  his ideology can discern how the founders would regard modern issues. While seemingly rooted in conservatism, the theory in practice undermines a rule of law. This is because it enables activist judges to overturn precedents and rule in favor of their favorite cronies and benefactors, including those who hire or otherwise invest with their relatives. 

As another illustration of his activist role, Scalia said "Get over it" to critics of his decision to vote with fellow Republicans to award the 2000 Presidential election to George Bush in a highly unusual 5-4 unsigned opinion. Also, Scalia has said he need not recuse from a major decision involving then-Vice President Dick Cheney just because they went duck-hunting together on a vacation.

Insiders know that the justices rely on law clerks for much of their work, and enjoy reduced caseloads otherwise during recent years, leaving them time for book deals, junkets and a procession of awards-ceremonies.

Roberts, a Republican highly regarded as intelligent, nonetheless botched the swearing-in of President Obama, and had to administer it a second time privately, as indicated by the photo below via Wikipedia.

In a nation still 51% Protestant, high-pressure interest group politics has helped drive nominations resulting in a court comprised of six Catholics and three Jews. All nine members attended either Harvard or Yale Law School, although Associate Justice Ruth Ginsberg finished her degree at Columbia Law School after transferring there.

All of the justices are from the New York metro region aside from Thomas. A native of Georgia, he holds the additional distinction of being only the second African-American on the court after his controversial ascendancy in which he obtained support from such right-wing groups as Citizens United by opposing affirmative action and helping corporations, and from evangelical groups by denying at his Senate confirmation hearing Anita Hill's allegations.
Regarding the lower courts, the Justice Integrity Project and as well as other investigative reporters have identified mind-boggling, documented corruption on federal courts under the supervision of the Roberts-led Judicial Conference.

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Andrew Kreig is an investigative reporter, attorney, author, business strategist, radio host, and longtime non-profit executive based in Washington, DC. His most recent book is "Presidential Puppetry: Obama, Romney and Their Masters," the (more...)

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