Americans expect their judicial branch to serve as a fair arbiter of the law. For decades, the U.S. Supreme Court matched that expectation, enjoying a unique level of trust with over two-thirds of Americans expressing faith in the institution.
But recent revelations exposing Supreme Court justices’ blatant disregard for ethics have culminated in a full-blown crisis, forcing public trust in the high court to plummet to record lows. From Justice Clarence Thomas’s undisclosed trips with GOP megadonors to Justice Neil Gorsuch’s shady real estate dealings, a clear culture of corruption has enveloped the court.
Today, as scandals pile up and trust in the court sits at an all-time low, there is no shortage of suggested solutions – from congressional investigations to ethics reform. Calls for justices’ resignations continue to mount for the most egregious transgressions.
But with the first weeks of the Supreme Court session behind us and these same justices poised to issue decisions with wide-ranging implications, how can we re-instill trust in the short term?
Conflicted justices must recuse themselves from critical cases — especially those from which their billionaire buddies will benefit. If these justices refuse to recuse, they choose their wealthy pals over everyday Americans.
Ahead of the Court’s new term, Accountable.US partnered with over 40 watchdog and accountability organizations to demand that Chief Justice Roberts take control of his Court’s corruption crisis, urging him to ensure justices recuse themselves from critical cases where their billionaire friends stand to benefit.
We highlighted recent revelations exposing Justice Samuel Alito’s undisclosed luxury Alaskan fishing trip with billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Singer, whose interests routinely come before the Supreme Court — including in Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) v. Community Financial Services Association Of America (CFSA), one of the most high-stakes cases this session.
Singer’s investment management firm, Elliott Investment Management, has called for dismantling the CFPB and the reforms put in place following the 2008 recession brought about by a reckless financial sector. Calling Dodd-Frank provisions “dysfunctional dictates,” Singer’s hedge fund conveniently invests in numerous financial industry interests that would benefit from a Supreme Court decision crippling the CFPB.
Justice Alito’s billionaire buddy stands to benefit mightily from CFPB v. CFSA — but he refused to recuse himself from the critical case.
Alito isn’t the only justice whose close ties to billionaire buddies’ special interests threaten to erode trust in our Supreme Court further. Last month, ProPublica revealed a close relationship between Justice Clarence Thomas and the famous right-wing Koch network. Not only did Justice Thomas fail to disclose his attendance at Koch-sponsored fundraising retreats, but organizers also leveraged his participation to draw donations.
The Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity is supporting the same CFPB v. CFSA case.
But that’s not all.
Koch network staff attorneys also represent the plaintiffs in Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo, the critical upcoming case challenging the longstanding Chevron doctrine.
The Kochs have worked for years to overturn the Chevron deference and erode the administrative state — challenging the longstanding precedent in the courts, lobbying Congress to pass a law nullifying the decision, and funneling millions of dollars in grants to law professors providing the legal backing for Chevron’s challenge.
Compounding conflicts of interest are explicit. Justice Thomas must recuse himself from Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo, as he should have done for CFPB v. CFSA.
The cozy relationships between the justices and these high-profile, politically active billionaires who routinely bring business before the high court pose an existential risk to our democracy and core institutions.
As we stated in our letter to Chief Justice Roberts, “the federal recusal statute requires disqualification whenever a justice’s ‘impartiality might reasonably be questioned,’ including circumstances within which the justice ‘has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party, or personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts concerning the proceeding.’”
There is no doubt that in both cases — CFPB v. CFSA and Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo — personal bias exists, and Justice Alito’s and Thomas’s impartiality can undoubtedly be questioned.
But today, weeks into the term, these justices have failed to even address the calls for recusal — let alone step aside. We cannot let up. The stakes are too high.
We are asking once again that Chief Justice Roberts ensure that the members of his court who continually violate ethical standards and have personal bias in upcoming cases do the same. The choice is simple: clean up the Court or oversee the most significant decline in trust in one of America’s most sacred institutions.