The Supreme Court has run out of excuses.
Earlier this month, after ProPublica revealed that Justice Clarence Thomas frequently takes lavish vacations funded by billionaire Republican donor Harlan Crow, Thomas attempted to defend himself by claiming that this sort of “personal hospitality from close personal friends” is fine because Crow “did not have business before the court.”
As it turns out, that’s not true. As Bloomberg reports, the Supreme Court — including Justice Thomas — did briefly consider a $25 million copyright dispute involving a company that Crow was a partial owner of in 2005. At that point, Crow had already given a number of gifts to Thomas, including a $19,000 Bible that once belonged to Frederick Douglass.
Similarly, if the rule is that justices must be extra careful when dealing with people who have business before the Supreme Court, then Justice Neil Gorsuch may also have violated this rule. According to Politico, a tract of land that Gorsuch owned with two other individuals was on the market for nearly two years before it found a buyer — nine days after Gorsuch was confirmed to the Supreme Court. The buyer was the chief executive of Greenberg Traurig, a massive law firm that frequently practices before the Supreme Court.
As Politico notes, “such a sale would raise ethical problems for officials serving in many other branches of government,” but the rules governing the justices are particularly lax.
There is a federal statute which requires all federal judges, including Supreme Court justices, to recuse themselves from any case “in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned,” but there is no effective enforcement mechanism to apply this vague law to a Supreme Court justice. [Continue reading…]