American Constitution Society for Law and Policy
June 23, 2011– Rep. Chris Murphy has urged leaders of the House Judiciary Committee to conduct a hearing consider a measure that “would end the Supreme Court’s immunity to judicial ethics laws,” Think Progress’s Ian Millhiser reports.
Murphy’s letter follows a recent report in The New York Times about Justice Clarence Thomas’s connections to Harlan Crow, “a major contributor to conservative causes,” including allegedly providing $500,000 to Thomas’s wife, Virginia, to launch a Tea Party group that worked to scuttle the landmark health care reform law. Thomas, The Times reported, has received other gifts from Crow, who has also donated $175,000 to a museum being constructed in the justice’s birthplace of Pin Point, Ga., which undoubtedly celebrate Thomas.
Common Cause, last year called on the Justice Department to look into other political connections of Thomas, as well as Justice Antonin Scalia.
In a press statement following The Times story, Common Cause President Bob Edgar asked, “Has Justice Thomas been traveling on a developer’s private jet and yacht, on the developer’s dime, while reporting that his expenses were borne by someone else? Do Supreme Court justices get a pass on the ethical standards that every other judge must meet?”
In his letter, obtained by Think Progress, to the House Judiciary Committee leadership, Rep. Murphy states:
Recent revelations about Justice Thomas accepting tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of gifts from individuals and organizations who often have an interest in matters before the courts calls into question the Court’s impartiality. Canon 4D of the Code of Conduct incorporates regulations providing that ‘[a] judicial officer or employee shall not accept a gift from anyone who is seeking official action from or doing business with the court.’ Yet Justice Thomas received a gift valued at $15,000 from an organization that had a brief pending before his Court at the very moment they gave him the gift. Incidents such as these undermine the integrity of the entire judiciary, and they should not be allowed to continue.
At the moment the high court justices are not bound by the code of conduct for federal judges, though they claim to adhere to it.