A Lack of Accountability

by | February 29, 2024

supreme court

History of the U.S. Supreme Court 

Article III of the Constitution first established a federal judiciary. Although the Constitution established the Supreme Court, it permits Congress to decide how to organize it. Congress first exercised this power in the Judiciary Act of 1789

Today, there are nine justices. Like all federal judges, the justices are appointed by the President and are confirmed by the Senate. They, typically, hold office for life. 

The Role of the Court 

It is vital to our government that the U.S. Supreme court be independent, and not influenced by the other branches of government. An independent judiciary serves as a check on the actions of the executive (i.e., the POTUS) and legislative branches of government (i.e., the House of Representatives and the Senate). An important role of the court is to assure that one branch does not exercise the power of the other. 

Further, an independent judiciary, in a society with a constitution which provides either explicitly or implicitly for separation of governmental powers, can assure that the legislative and executive powers are not merged, destroying the essence of our representative government.  

An negative example of this is in our own history. One of the complaints asserted by the American colonists in declaring independence from England was the lack of judicial independence of colonial judges who served at the pleasure of the King of England. 

To ensure that the U.S. Supreme Court is independent and to protect judges from partisan influence, the Constitution provides that judges serve during “good Behaviour,” which has generally meant life terms. To further assure their independence, the Constitution provides that judges’ salaries may not be diminished while they are in office.

Put simply, the Supreme Court of the United States plays a very important role in our system of government. First, as the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court is the last resort for those looking for justice. Second, due to its power of judicial review, it plays an essential role in ensuring that each branch of government recognizes the limits of its own power. Third, it protects civil rights and liberties by striking down laws that violate the Constitution. Finally, it sets limits on democratic government by ensuring that popular majorities cannot pass laws that harm and/or take advantage of unpopular minorities. In other words, the court serves to ensure that the changing views of a majority do not undermine the fundamental values common to all Americans (e.g.,  freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and due process of law.) 

The Supreme Court of the United States and True Independence 

I contend that the Supreme Court justices ARE influenced by partisan politics. For example, before the 2022 summer break, the Supreme Court ruled in several cases that will alter the lives of millions of Americans: 

First, in the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen case, the Court ruled that the state governments may not prevent people from carrying concealed firearms in most circumstances. Only good guys with guns can stop gun violence, right?  

Second, in the Dobbs v. Jackson’s Women’s Health Organization case, the Court struck down a 50-year-old precedent (established in Roe v. Wade in 1973) and ruled that there is no constitutional right to abort a pregnancy. 

Third, in the West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency, the Court ruled that executive agencies cannot regulate without explicit authorization from Congress. This blocked the Biden administration’s plan to reduce carbon emissions.   

The Court’s decisions in these three cases highlight how changes on the bench have delivered different outcomes. The political backlash to the Court’s rulings raises questions about the Court’s powers and its independence. 

No Protections Against Conflicts of Interest 

In addition to being influenced by partisan politics, do you realize that Supreme Court justices do not have to adhere to any specific, conflicts of interest? Supreme Court Justices are asked only to voluntarily adhere to a set of “foundational ethics principles and practices.” It is clear that some of them have not done so.   

In contrast, “lower” court judges, for instance, are generally barred from engaging in fundraising, political activity and “lending the prestige of judicial office” to advance a judge’s own “private interests.” 

Lack of Confidence in the Current Supreme Court 

I believe that a free press/media are needed in this country to discover ethics breaches and illegalities like I have listed below. Here is a list of ethics breaches that I discovered from multiple free press sources including NPR, Citizen for Responsibility and Ethics in Washinton, Forbes, Pro Publica, and Reuters: 

1) Did you know that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas never repaid a “substantial portion” of a $267,230 loan he received from a wealthy friend to pay off a luxury RV. Thomas also never reported this loan on his financial disclosure to the court in 2008. Conflict of interest?  

2) Did you know that Thomas attended at least two donor events for the Koch network- a political organization founded by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch—and participated in a dinner with high-level donors, without disclosing his appearance at the summits or a private jet trip he took to and from the event in 2018. Conflict of interest?

3) Did you know Clarence Thomas cultivated a relationship with the two Koch brothers through repeated trips to the Bohemian Grove, a private retreat for wealthy men. The Koch’s brought cases before the Supreme Court, including having staff attorneys represent the plaintiffs in at least one case. Conflict of interest?  

4) Did you know that Thomas accepted gifts including at least 38 destination vacations, 26 private jet flights, VIP sports passes, helicopter flights, a stay at a private resorts and a standing invitation for a private golf club? None of these gifts were disclosed on Thomas’ federal disclosure forms. Conflict of interest? 

5) Did you know that Thomas was a longtime member of the Horatio Alger Association, which was created to “dispel the mounting belief … that the American dream was no longer attainable”—has for years accepted gifts from certain members such as luxury trips and a Super Bowl ring. These same people had business before the Supreme Court. Conflict of interest?

6) Did you know that for  years, Thomas accepted trips from GOP megadonor and developer Harlan Crow, including trips on his private jet and superyacht, without disclosing them as federal law requires. Conflict of interest? 

7) Did you know that Crow also paid two years of tuition for Thomas’ grandnephew Mark Martin, whom the justice has custody of, to attend two private schools in the 2000s, which cost $6,000 per month at one of the schools. None of these payments were disclosed. Conflict of interest? 

8) Did you know that Thomas and his family also sold a number of properties in Savannah, Georgia, to Crow in 2014 without disclosing those sales as required?  Conflict of interest? 

9) Did you know that Thomas’ wife, Ginni Thomas, has potential influence over her husband’s work?  She has been involved in submitting briefs before the Supreme Court, including a group that has weighed in on affirmative action in university admissions. Conflict of interest? 

10) Have you heard of Leonard Leo? He is a very wealthy judicial activist who has spent billions to reshape the federal courts. Do you know that Mr. Leo told Kellyanne Conway to give Ginni Thomas “another $25k” through a nonprofit group he advises. A group then filed a brief with the Supreme Court. Mr. Leo instructed Conway to conceal that the payment was for Ginny Thomas, telling Conway, “No mention of Ginni, of course.”  Conflict of interest? 

11)  Were you aware that Ginni Thomas tried to overturn the 2020 election results, including sending text messages to then White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. All the while her husband was hearing cases on it, Conflict of interest?

12) Did you know that Ginni Thomas also confirmed she briefly attended the rally on January 6 that preceded the attack on the Capitol building? Then, she publicly criticized the House January 6 Committee. Conflict of interest? 

13) Did you also know that Clarence Thomas has failed to recuse himself in a case concerning former President Donald Trump’s records being turned over to the committee—in which he was the only justice to dissentConflict of interest? 

14) Were you aware that a conservative group that Ginni Thomas formed in 2019 had raised nearly $600,000 from anonymous donors funneled through a right-wing think tank and they filed an amicus brief at the Supreme Court during the same time? Conflict of interest? 

15) Did you know that Thomas made a series of other “errors and omissions” on required financial disclosure reports, including failure to report the income that he enjoyed for decades from real estate from a company that shut down in 2006. Were you also aware that in the past, Thomas has had to amend his financial disclosures multiple times, including after his failure to report his wife’s income in the 2000s. Conflict of interest?

One Political Party is Opposed to Supreme Court Judges Having Ethics  

Democrats have tried to pass a Code of Ethics for Supreme Court Judges. Republicans have opposed these efforts on all fronts, painting Democrats’ ethics efforts as a partisan left-wing attack on conservative justices.  

The Supreme Court has also declined to impose a code of ethics on itself, despite reportedly discussing the matter for years. For instance, Justice Elena Kagan said last summer that the Supreme Court justices have been talking about this issue. She also went on to note that the nine justices had a variety of views about ethics. That is very obvious.  

No Surprise How the U.S. Supreme Court Votes  

On this week that the state of Illinois became the third state to declare former President Donald Trump ineligible to run for the presidency because of the 14th  Amendment of the Constitution and his involvement in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, the U.S. Supreme Court thought otherwise.  

In my innocent youth, I believed that our legal system always taught that “no one is above the law, ” – that there is accountability for all. How naïve of me! Obviously, the U.S. Supreme Court thinks differently.   

Their recent announcement was a victory for Trump’s efforts to delay one criminal case against him that charged him with plotting to overturn the results of the 2020 election, setting arguments for late April. 

Their decision could mean that the Presidential election this fall for the United States might actually occur without a jury ever being asked to decide whether Trump is criminally responsible for efforts to undo an election that he lost in the weeks leading up to the violent Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol. Intentional? Political?  Conflict of interest?  You decide. 

The Future  

Our judges must be independent and above reproach! Any loss in confidence in the actions of the Supreme Court, makes the rule of law more vulnerable and detracts from its legitimacy. 

The Republican nominee for President, Donald Trump faces 91 criminal felony counts against him. Already he has been found guilty in three civil charges and owes nearly a half-billion dollars to the courts. That does not include all the legal fees. The Republican candidate is now officially “for sale” to the highest bidder.   

Do not be fooled. Trump chose to do these things to himself. From keeping and hiding classified government documents to sexually molesting and then defaming E. Jean Carroll. Trump is to blame. Not me. Not you. Not the “evil Democrats” or “biased,” “crooked,” “partisan” or “hostile” judges. When Trump calls the courts “rigged” or prosecutors “corrupt,” he further erodes public trust in the legal system and the rule of law. Over time, this lack of confidence increases the risk that people are going to ignore the Court’s orders and mandates. 

This lack of confidence also increases the chance that the public is going to start to regard judicial decisions not as a product of impartial deliberation based on the facts and the law in each particular case, but as a favor for a particular political party, or a particular position, and as essentially pre-ordained, based entirely on the composition of the judges that sit on the Supreme Court. 

The 1795 Group Can Help

We believe in being part of solutions. Let’s work together at the grass roots level to solve this problem! Perhaps you would like a guest speaker or a presentation on this topic. Perhaps you would like to have your students, learners, or employees enjoy an in-person or virtual professional development workshop in this topical area. Perhaps you need a course to be written for your learners. Whatever your need, the 1795 Group can help. Call us and let’s brainstorm ways to work together. 


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Dr. Tim Jordan

Dr. Timothy R. Jordan has been a health educator (grades 6-12), Assistant High School Principal, Associate Director of Graduate Medical Education for a large health care system, and a Professor of Public Health for the past 23 years. His areas of research include end-of-life, reducing racial/ethnic health disparities, health behavior change, chronic disease prevention, and smoking prevention and cessation. He is the founder and the current director of the 1795 Group.

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