-By Andrew Kreig
The federal courts function honestly, according to the 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 said the federal judiciary needs no reforms because its members seek to address their duties in an ethical manner. 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 is simple: 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.
"Every American every day is affected by issues before the Supreme Court" is conventional wisdom among those who 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 the inevitable review of the law he signed Dec. 31 giving him 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 in a fashion that he determines to be unlawful.
The Roberts report was released at 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 ays:
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 the weekend as the President signed the new defense appropriation with its martial law provisions. He explained his rationale in a White House Statement by the President on H.R. 1540.
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 back away 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.