Tag Archives: ethics

SCOTUS takes tiny step

The U.S. Supreme Court is 234 years of age and only until this week it has operated without a single standard for the way its justices should conduct themselves.

The court finally has adopted a sort of guideline for the things its justices can do, but it falls far short of anything worth a damn or any measure that could help restore public confidence in our nation’s highest court.

Two justices have been in the news of late. Clarence Thomas — the court’s senior member in terms of service — has received lavish gifts from a Dallas billionaire while also ruling on cases involving the Harlan Crow’s business interests. The gifts include vacations for Thomas and his wife, tuition paid for his grandson, and a mortgage paid for a home occupied by Thomas’s mother.

Samuel Alito took a fishing trip at the expense of a hedge fund manager and then failed to recuse himself in a case involving the fund.

Oh, we also have the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg taking a trip to Israel paid for by someone with a case pending before the court.

This is utter nonsense. It’s pure crap. It compromises the court’s integrity, its fairness, its objectivity, its ability to rule on the merits of a case exclusively without being influenced by outside pressure.

I have been yammering all along that Clarence Thomas should resign from the court, but that call involves the numerous instances of conflict of interest that seem to fly over the justice’s head; the others involve his wife’s involvement in the Big Lie and the assault by MAGA morons on 1/6 seeking to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

The very first rule of ethics should be for justices to avoid any possible conflict of interest by being involved in any fashion with litigants appearing before them. The Supreme Court has stated it now in writing.

What’s missing, though, is any meaningful enforcement of the rules. The court has laid out nothing that prescribes a punishment for justices who are caught violating these rules.

That absolutely must be the next step.

Resign, Sen. Menendez!

An editor of mine once said that “if someone calls you an ass, blow it off as one person’s opinion. But if everyone around you does, then you’d better start shopping for a saddle.”

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., has been indicted on bribery charges; so has his wife, Nadine. The ranks of fellow Senate Democrats calling for him to resign has swelled to more than 30.

You know, he ought to just quit. Go home and get ready for a trial that likely is going to send this guy to prison.

It’s instructive to note two other points about Menendez’s current plight. One is that the Republican caucus in Congress has been silent. Hmm. Why is that? Oh, wait! The longer Menendez sits in the Senate, the less time the media will spend looking at assorted scandals and criminal indictments leveled against the former POTUS … who happens to be a Republican.

The other is Menendez was tried once before on corruption charges. His trial ended with a hung jury, meaning that prosecutors couldn’t get all jurors to convict him. So, the case was dismissed. It could have been re-tried. However, a hung jury doesn’t imply innocence in that earlier corruption scandal.

Had the Senate Democratic caucus shown any guts, it would have expelled Menendez from the Senate after the first criminal trial. But they are gutless wonders. They brought him back to the fold and allowed him to function as if nothing had happened.

Now comes the latest criminal indictment alleging that the Menendezes had gold bars worth hundreds of thousands of dollars stashed away along with envelopes stuffed with cash.

This indictment looks serious enough for Menendez to just walk away now and defend himself in court. Yes, he is entitled to the presumption of innocence. However, Menendez is not entitled to remain in the U.S. Senate.

GOP not more corrupt than Dems, however …

There is not a chance in hell I am going to declare that Republicans as a human subspecies are inherently more corrupt than Democrats.

However … we are seeing a disturbing trend that seems to give substance to that assertion. I refer to the incidents involving GOP-appointed justices who sit on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Rather than recuse themselves from cases involving wealthy benefactors, three justices seem to go on as if, well, there’s not a damn thing wrong with accepting lavish gifts from individuals who have business before the court.

This is a matter of perception. If the public believes a justice is influenced by those gifts, there remains little room for the justice to set the record straight.

Justice Clarence Thomas has accepted lavish vacations from Texas billionaire Harland Crow. He hasn’t recused himself from any decisions involving his big-time pal. Thomas was nominated for the court in 1991 by GOP President George HW Bush.

Justice Samuel Alito has been accepting lavish gifts from an uber-rich Republican activist. No recusal from Alito, either. President George W. Bush nominated Alito in 2005 to the highest court in the land.

Chief Justice John Roberts’s wife has been working as a head-hunter for big-time law firms that have cases before the high court. Oh, Roberts is another G.W. Bush appointee.

OK, enough about the high court. I have witnessed judicial misbehavior in Texas at lower courts. For instance, I offered criticism of a Democratic district judge in Jefferson County who used facsimile letterhead stationery to help him acquire a private business license to operate a restaurant in the county courthouse.

These recent examples of lax ethics standards on the Supreme Court, though, does involve Republican-appointed justices. It is troubling in the extreme to see the court’s public opinion standing plummet in real time.

Americans have every right to demand and expect their justices to adhere to high ethical standards. We aren’t getting it at this time from some members of the high court’s conservative super-majority.

I am, therefore, demanding it from the U.S. Supreme Court.


Thomas’s ethics getting stickier

Is there no end in sight for the ways that Clarence Thomas can disgrace himself, the high office he occupies and the judicial system over which he presides?

The U.S. Supreme Court associate justice — the longest-tenured member of the nation’s highest court — is now reportedly the recipient of yet another lavish gift from a Texas billionaire who, that’s right, has business before the court.

Dallas financier Harlan Crow has been paying the tuition to a high-priced private school for Justice Thomas’s grandnephew, who he has raised as his son.

Oh, my. The hits just keep coming. Crow has treated Justice and Mrs. Thomas to trips on his private aircraft and yacht in exotic locations around the world. He has purchased a home for Thomas’s mother and allowed her to live in it rent free. Now we hear about the tuition payments for Thomas’s grandnephew.

I want to offer a bouquet of sorts to Justice Thomas, who has helped raise the young man. That’s a noble act and I don’t want to let that go unnoticed. However, such nobility should not be the stuff of potential graft from a rich pal … who befriended the justice only after he joined the Supreme Court in 1991.

What a coincidence, yes?

As we have noted here already, the nation’s highest court demands the courts lower on the judicial pecking order follow strict ethical guidelines. Yet it has none for its own nine members.

Are we left, then, to believe the Supreme Court is self-policing, that its justices are adhering to the letter and the spirit of ethical standards? I guess so … except that they aren’t doing anything of the sort.

What we have instead is a Supreme Court once held in high esteem by the public denigrating itself because some of its members — not just Justice Thomas — are flouting the standards they demand of others within the federal judiciary.

It is hypocritical in the extreme.


SCOTUS: above the law?

The irony is so rich you can slice and dice it, given the U.S. Supreme Court’s insistence that lower courts abide by strict ethics rules … but operates on its own without any such restriction.

We have three justices on the nation’s highest court who now have some serious — and possibly egregious — ethics troubles hanging over them.

They start with the chief justice, John Roberts and include Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch. The Senate Judiciary Committee had invited Chief Justice Roberts to visit with the panel about those questions, but Roberts declined, citing judicial independence.


Roberts’s wife is a headhunter for law firms, earning millions of dollars annually. The firms for which she works routinely have business before her husband’s court. Conflict of interest? Looks like it to me.

Justice Gorsuch sold some property to a lawyer with another mega firm, which also does business with the court. More conflict? Umm, yep!

Justice Thomas has demonstrated a nearly legendary lapse of judgment. His wife is part of the Big Lie crowd, believing the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump; a Texas gazillionaire has lavished gifts on the Thomases and the justice has failed to report them; the rich Texan also has purchased the justice’s mother’s home and allows her to live there rent free. What do you think about that? Yeah … conflict of interest.

But the court has no rules governing this conduct. There are no restrictions or reporting requirements demanded of the men and women who serve on the court.

These men all have one thing else in common: they are Republican-nominated justices.

Why mention the partisan label? Well, consider something else. Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris’s husband, Doug Emhoff, was a partner in an international law firm. By the time VP Harris was sworn into office, Emhoff quit his job, surrendering millions of dollars in income. Why? Because there might be a hint of conflict. He chose the right path and is now teaching law at Georgetown University, earning a handsome salary, but which is significantly less than he would have earned had he stayed employed by the mega firm.

No one can fire any of the justices, or the vice president. The only way to remove them from office is to impeach them and then convict them in a congressional trial. The three men mentioned here have ignored any pretense of ethical conduct; the vice president and her husband have chosen a more correct option.

There must be an accounting for the individuals who serve on the nation’s highest court. For the chief justice to resist any calls for ethics reform is to betray the high office he occupies.


Move over, Clarence Thomas …

Now we hear that Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch might be in a bit of a jam over ethical conduct.

What the … ?

First it was Justice Clarence Thomas, whose wife Ginni, got caught up in The Big Lie nonsense over the 2020 presidential election. She attended the rally in which Donald Trump urged the angry crowd to march on the Capitol and “take back” our country. It didn’t work out well. Then the justice cast the lone vote against a decision requiring the ex-POTUS to turn over documents to the National Archives. A connection? Hmm … looks like it to me.

Then came the Harlan Crow matter, with the Dallas zillionaire lavishing gifts on the Thomases, which the justice didn’t report.

Now comes Justice Gorsuch, who reportedly sold a $2 million piece of property to an executive with a mega-legal firm that does business with the court.

It all calls to question the lax ethical standards intended to govern the behavior of the nine men and women who serve on the nation’s highest court.

There needs to be an ethical standard for the nation’s highest court. Chief Justice John Roberts so far has refused to act. The Senate, which must confirm nominees to the federal bench, can do the right thing, if it can muster up the will. So far it has refused.

I daresay the nation’s founders are likely spinning in their graves over the politicization of the SCOTUS. They sought to remove the judiciary from the political arena. Their experiment has failed, sad to say.

The high court demands lower courts adhere to ethical standards. Yet it doesn’t have any such standards for its own justices to follow.

It’s a shameful (or shameless) dereliction of duty.


Come clean, Mr. Justice … or else!

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas should be in a world of hurt right now, but he isn’t. Not by a long shot.

Why? Because the court on which he has served since 1991 has no rules governing its members’ conduct.

Oh, my … that needs to change!

It has been revealed that Thomas accepted ritzy travel gifts from a rich Republican donor, Harlan Crow of Texas, without reporting them to authorities. Thomas  now says he was advised by others that he didn’t need to do such a thing and, of course, accepting such extravagant gifts did nothing to influence his rulings on political matters.

Democrats are outraged over these findings. They have good reason to be angry. They also are a bit dispirited because they have few legislative options in Congress available to them.

Thomas is a walking case of judicial hypocrisy. The high court demands that lower courts set strict ethical standards and requires them to enforce them strictly. The SCOTUS, though, is immune from such protection. Justices are free to flout the rules whenever they please. Clarence Thomas is the worst of the bunch.

He needs to be impeached by Congress and put on trial for his ethical transgressions. Will it happen? Hah! Hardly.

The man is a disgrace to the court and to the nation.


This ain’t Wal-Mart, Mr. Justice

Clarence Thomas once declared he is favors RVs and Wal-Mart parking lots over luxury vacation retreats.

He said he comes from “simple stock.”

Oh, really, Mr. Supreme Court Justice? How does he explain the luxurious vacations he and his wife, Ginni, took on the dime of a wealthy Republican donor? Well, he isn’t talking because the Supreme Court doesn’t have any ethics rules for justices to follow.

Justice Thomas is a hypocrite of the lowest order. He needs to be resign from the court. The House ought to impeach him. The Senate ought to try him and he ought to be removed from the court.

Recall, too, how Justice Thomas voted against rules sanctioning the 45th POTUS after it was revealed that Ginni Thomas is a vocal supporter of The Big Lie about the 2020 election, which she contends was “strolen” from the ex-POTUS.

Good grief! This baloney has got to stop.


Amarillo ISD complaint offers opportunity for ethics lesson

A constituent of Amarillo’s public school system, has peeled away the shroud from a story that has been brewing in the community for several weeks.

Marc Henson has filed a complaint with the Texas Education Agency against a member of the Amarillo school district board who, according to Henson, interfered with a high school coach’s ability to do her job. The board trustee, Renee McCown, badgered former Amarillo High School volleyball coach Kori Clements, griping about the playing time being given to the trustee’s daughters.

Clements quit after a single season coaching in one of Texas’s most storied high school athletic programs.

There’s a lesson to be learned, no matter how this story plays out.

It is that elected officials — be they school board members, city council members, county commissioners, college or university regents — have no business meddling in the day-to-day work of the staff members who serve the public.

I am going to presume that Renee McCown received that advice as she was preparing to become an Amarillo public school trustee. If she never received those words of wisdom from senior school administrators or fellow trustees, shame on them for neglecting to inform her.

If she got that advice and then ignored it, then shame on her.

I am acutely aware that all of this is an allegation. However, it rings more credible to me — and to others who are much closer to the matter than I am — every time I consider it.

McCown hasn’t denied anything publicly. Clements’ resignation letter set the table for a heated community discussion. Marc Henson’s complaint to the TEA has blown the lid off the alleged culprit in this bizarre story.

As for the lesson to be learned, it is a simple one. Read my lips: Elected officials set governing policy and then let the paid staff implement that policy. Period. End of story.

Any involvement in the implementation of policy beyond that simple mandate smacks of unethical conduct and must be dealt with sharply.

Welcome to a rocky start, Congress

That didn’t take long.

Congressional Republicans decided to gut an ethics watchdog group, prompting the president-elect to send out a tweet that said they should focus on other matters first; then the House GOP caucus decided to scrap the watchdog-gutting, apparently cowed by Donald Trump’s Twitter tirade.

I’m glad the House GOP thought better of the cockamamie idea to place ethics investigations solely within the House Ethics Committee, which is run by Republicans.


What’s next? The bipartisan independent group will continue to refer complaints to Congress if they deem them legitimate. They’ll be able to accept anonymous complaints.

Does this mean Donald Trump has found some ethical “religion”? Probably not. He’s got a slew of problems himself to resolve.

It does mean, though, that he seems to have put the fear of social media into the minds of his fellow Republicans.

Still, it’s a clumsy start to the next congressional session.