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Reclaim The Court Rally at the Supreme Court. Photo credit: Lorie Shaull / Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0 DEED)

Hand-wringing from Democrats won’t get Chief Justice John Roberts to put in place some real ethics rules for the Supreme Court… but public pressure might.

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If rightful indignation could prevent Supreme Court justices from accepting extravagant gifts from their billionaire friends or openly siding with insurrectionists, then the court wouldn’t have an ethics problem.

Sadly, just posting angry/sad tweets about apparent ethics violations doesn’t do the trick. Of course, that isn’t stopping congressional Democrats from trying:

That tweet, and many others like it, sums up the nature of the problem. You can “urge” Chief Justice John Roberts, or any of the other eight members of the court, all day long to do the right thing. However, if they don’t feel like it and, in Samuel Alito’s case, would rather do the “right” thing (Editor’s Note: This is a joke about his extremist views), then there is nothing any lawmaker can do.

And that is precisely why the high court does have a massive (and growing) ethics problem.

Of course, its right-wing majority probably wouldn’t describe it as a problem. After all, people like Clarence Thomas and Alito get to write rulings that benefit the GOP and set back women’s or minorities’ rights a few decades while being showered with fancy trips and presents at the same time. Oh, and they can also engage in blatantly political acts — or, at least, their wives can (wink, wink).

On the one hand, it’s tough to blame them. After all, if there were no laws against shoplifting, who’d still pay for their groceries? Clearly not Alito nor Thomas.

It’s like that here. There is simply no mechanism that prevents them from being unethical, partisan hacks.

And, since, for example, the American people have shown no interest whatsoever in being subjected to the same abortion laws as women in places like Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, it takes unethical partisan hacks on the bench of the Supreme Court to impose a 19th century worldview on them.

On the other hand, that’s not great.

In Alito’s world, Trump’s coup would have succeeded, and the US would look like something Kansas City Chiefs placekicker Harrison Butker dreams about at night.

In fact, the views of Alito and other religious zealots like him are so extreme that they often clash with those of fellow Catholic Pope Francis.

Granted, Durbin and other Democrats are trying to subject the Supreme Court to mandatory ethics rules, but they clearly hope that this is something Roberts will do on his own.

That’s simply not enough.

Sure, since the Supreme Court has become the judicial wing of the MAGA movement, this legislation isn’t going to pass the GOP-controlled House.

However, this is an issue that should be deeply disconcerting to a majority of Americans, so Democrats should be doing a much better job of explaining it to them, and Durbin and his colleagues should be talking about this all the time.

The American people saw what happened on January 6, and they will probably understand that someone who flies flags in apparent solidarity with the insurrectionists should not rule on cases involving those who stormed Congress.

That is one of the big shortcomings of the Democrats. Donald Trump, Republican lawmakers, and right-wing talking heads are way better at communicating their outrage. In fact, since they don’t have any meaningful policy proposals, that’s their entire brand!

In this case, there is actually something to be outraged about, and Democrats should borrow a page from the GOP playbook and make this a central theme of their campaigns.

Roberts is not going to yield to a mere request from some senators. However, we know he is clearly concerned about “his” court’s legacy, and it stands to reason that he knows things are getting out of hand.

If there is enough public pressure, and if he believes that jeopardizes the integrity of the court, then he may just act.


  • Klaus Marre

    Klaus Marre is a writer, editor, former congressional reporter, and director of the WhoWhatWhy Mentor Apprentice Program. Follow him on Twitter @KlausMarre.

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