Supreme Court justices should also apologize

As President Donald Trump exercised his clemency power in the final days of his administration, a federal judge told a reporter, “It’s no surprise that a criminal like Trump pardons other criminals. […] Apparently, to get a pardon, you have to be either a Republican, a convicted child murderer, or a turkey.

Within weeks, Judge Robert W. Pratt of the Southern District of Iowa apologized. “I recognize the unlawfulness of the remarks,” he said. wrote“and I regret the embarrassment they have caused my court and the judiciary generally. I am truly sorry for the remarks and apologize for making them.

Last month, District of South Carolina Judge Joseph Dawson ‘expressed his sincere apologies for any harm to public confidence’ in the justice system he may have caused by signing a contract that implied he would offer legal advice to his former employer even after receiving his commission judicial. Such a “double-dip” violates federal law. Not only did Dawson say he was sorry; he also rewrote the contract.

Now imagine similar errors in judgment being made not by lower court judges, but by justices of the Supreme Court of the United States. Would the nine, once caught, also be contrite?

The truth is you don’t have to imagine. It is often found that judges have committed ethical breaches, but their pride prevents them from apologizing. This pride undermines trust in the court

Shameless mistakes and breaches of ethics

Judge Clarence Thomas did not apologize when in 2011 he was caught failing to complete the 13-year spouse’s employment section of financial disclosure reports. He wrote without any sign of remorse: “It has been brought to my attention that information concerning [wife Ginni’s job] was inadvertently omitted due to a misunderstanding.

When Justices Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito were caught failing to recuse themselves from a petition in 2019 despite holding stock in a litigant’s parent company, they didn’t apologize either. saying there was “no way” for them to know about the conflict. If that was true, how did I to catch their?

However deposit inaccurate disclosures and fail to recuse oneself despite a financial dispute are two violations of federal law, it is almost impossible to punish a judge, because under our laws and the Constitution there is impeachment or nothing, and there is no impeachment .

But at a time when public opinion of the court is at its nadir a little humility would go a long way. I’m sorry for undermining the public’s confidence in the justice system by filing incomplete statements, Thomas could have written at the time – and Again more recently when he made a similar mistake. Justices Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito could have said: We regret the embarrassment we have caused our court and the judiciary by not recusing despite our financial dispute.

(Yes, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg apologized after he disparaged then-candidate Trump, but his regret was several steps from sincerity. And then Judge Brett Kavanaugh expressed regret for outbursts during his 2018 confirmation hearings, but struggled to find the words “I’m sorry”.)

I thought of this model while looking at a recent speech Alito gave in Rome to Notre Dame Law School’s Religious Freedom Initiative. It was clear from his punishment of several foreign leaders who disagreed with his opinion in Dobbs that he is a voracious media consumer, so he must know the anguish that the end of a constitutional right to abortion has caused countless women and families across the country.

Yet Alito chose outrage over empathy, blaming secular culture for society’s decline and decrying the inability of religious people to practice their faith in public, even if the court, time and Again this month of June, decimated the wall separating Church and State. To say that the speech undermined public confidence would be an understatement.

Additionally, Alito’s travel sponsor is a frequent presence in court, a person whose views are upheld by the justice almost every time.

Missteps undermine trust in the Court

Here is what else is undermining public confidence – what I call the “yellowish record”, since these missteps make the court look sick:

  • Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson remains a registered Democrat as she was elevated to SCOTUS status this summer
  • Judge Amy Coney Barrett alongside Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in 2021 while saying judges are not ‘political hacks’
  • Judges Alito and Kavanaugh met with the head of an anti-LGBT organization in 2019 just after the group filed briefs in several cases
  • Judge Neil Gorsuch speaking at a Trump-owned hotel months after his 2017 confirmation
  • Judge Elena Kagan failed to recuse herself from a single Obamacare case when she once headed the government office responsible for crafting the law’s legal defense
  • Judge Sonia Sotomayor has not recused herself from petitions involving her book publisher, which paid her more than $3 million
  • Judge Thomas failed to recuse himself from several 2020 election cases and two petitions related to the Jan. 6 committee, even though his wife had a stake in their results.

It undermines public confidence that under Chief Justice John Roberts, judges remain exempt from the canons of judicial ethics that all other federal judges, including Pratt and Dawson, must follow. With the Court’s legitimacy under threat, the adoption by the judges of a formal code of ethics would be a crucial step in restoring public trust.

Alito may have sensed a certain aura drifting from Saint-Pierre during his recent speech, but it’s important that he and his eight colleagues recognize from time to time that they aren’t infallible.

I’m sorry if it’s hard for them to hear.

This article does not necessarily reflect the views of the Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., publisher of Bloomberg Law and Bloomberg Tax, or its owners.

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Author Information

Gabe Roth is executive director of Fix the Court, a national, nonpartisan organization that advocates for greater transparency and accountability in federal courts.

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