William Shakespeare could have been describing Congress instead of life when he wrote:
“It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing.”
Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5)
The U.S. Congress has assumed for itself the role of ethics advisor to the U.S. Supreme Court. Congress is so upset about recent Court decisions it is demanding that the Court adopt a binding code of judicial conduct (the U.S. Supreme Court has none now). Congress as the arbiter of Court morality brings forth an analogy of Jezebel as the paragon of Babylon.
It is not that the Supreme Court justices have not often acted unethically, it is just not a rational solution to turn to Congress for our relief. Real and permanent reform will not come from Congressional hearings and legislation nor does human nature suggest it will come from within the Court regardless of any ethical rules.
On December 8, 2022 in a hearing before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet a representative of the bipartisan Project on Government Oversight testified:
“Every justice who has served in the last decade has done something that has raised questions about propriety and impartiality.”
Then documented cases of unethical conduct by individual Supreme Court justices were submitted. It did not matter whether it was a darling of the left such as Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan or Sonia Sotomayor or a hero of the right such as Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito or Clarence Thomas, all had been found wanting. Of course, had anyone investigated the members of Congress during the past decade the results would have been similar.
Both Congressional members and members of the Supreme Court seem to become surprisingly wealthy on their rather mundane salaries. Perhaps they are all just frugal. Or maybe it is just my envy of such “good luck” as Sonia Sotomayor had in earning three million dollars on her book when I, as a writer myself, am still selling out of my car’s trunk one book at a time instead of having my old court staff hawking them or me. Also, Peg and I would most likely have enjoyed a cruise on Clarence Thomas’ friend’s yacht.
However, the real issue is not are the justices being unethical, of course they sometimes are; most humans are at least sometimes. It is only sin if seen through the eyes of someone who disagrees with a justice’s judicial philosophy. Ginsburg was a saint and Ketanji Jackson is becoming one as far as liberals are concerned. Scalia was a contemporary John Marshall and Samuel Alito has an ermine robe in the eyes of conservatives, But Gentle Reader, they are just as you and I, human and opinionated; that is why they were nominated and confirmed by politicians.
If you have read several of the more than 1,000 columns I have written and published since 1990, you may recall I have often called for Court reform. If Congress truly wishes to “do good”, they should amend our Constitution and devise a system of democratically electing federal judges who do not have life-tenure. Please, members of Congress, stop posturing from the right and left and legislate for the good of all of us. After all, we finally ended slavery and gave women the right to vote. Our 28th Amendment to the Constitution might help preserve our democracy instead of just shouting fire while we watch the Supreme Court burn.