Wednesday, June 12, 2024

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SCOTUS Controversy: Alito and Thomas Under Fire for Refusal to Recuse

From undisclosed luxury trips to insurrection ties: Thomas, Alito threaten Supreme Court's legitimacy

Clarence Thomas Samuel Alito SCOTUS

In a controversial move, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito has rebuffed demands from Democratic lawmakers and legal scholars to recuse himself from cases involving the January 6th insurrection. The calls for his recusal stem from reports that an upside-down American flag was spotted flying outside his Virginia residence in the weeks after the attempted insurrection.

The impartiality and objectivity of Justices Alito and Clarence Thomas have long been questioned, with the pair embroiled in numerous ethical controversies in recent years. These latest revelations regarding potential biases related to the January 6th riot have intensified the urgency for their recusal from such cases.

By refusing to step aside, Alito and Thomas are eroding public trust in the Supreme Court as an institution meant to uphold the rule of law and democratic principles. Their perceived inability to remain impartial on matters tied to the Trump led insurrection once again casts doubt on the integrity of the highest court in the land.

Alito’s Dubious Defense for Insurrectionist Flag Displays

Let’s start with Samuel Alito, whose troubling conduct has raised serious red flags about his impartiality. In the weeks following the violent insurrection attempt on January 6th, 2021 that claimed multiple Capitol police officers’ lives, an upside-down American flag—a symbol co-opted by the by the violent insurrectionists—was flown outside Alito’s Virginia home. 

Justice Alito’s explanation? In an interview with Fox News, Alito said that the inverted flag was a defensive response by his wife after a neighbor hurled vulgar insults at her.

However, a recent New York Times report suggests that Alito was lying. According to the Times, the verbal altercation that Alito described occurred weeks after the upside-down flag had already been raised, according to Fairfax County law enforcement.

This discrepancy raises questions about Alito’s truthfulness and whether he intentionally lied to the public in order to portray himself and his wife as victims of harassment. The Supreme Court justice’s credibility is now under scrutiny, as his account appears inconsistent with the reported timeline of events.

But Alito’s unethical behavior doesn’t stop there. Last summer, another flag associated with the insurrectionists—the so-called “Appeal to Heaven” banner embraced by Christian nationalists—was displayed at his vacation home in New Jersey. 

Even if we accept Alito’s account, which stretches credibility to its limits, his complicity in allowing such partisan symbols to be displayed at his property cannot be ignored. As Michael Ponsor, a U.S. District Court Judge in Massachusetts, bluntly stated, “Any judge with reasonable ethical instincts would have realized immediately that flying the flag then and in that way was improper. And dumb.” 

It’s crucial to recognize that these actions didn’t occur in a vacuum. Alito’s recent explanations come amid many other ethical controversies. His acceptance of undisclosed luxury vacations from conservative donors who had cases in front of the court—behavior that amounts to accepting bribes—directly violates the trust placed in a Supreme Court justice. Such behavior is an affront to our founding fathers, who would be appalled to see justices enjoying lavish perks in exchange for favorable judicial outcomes.

Clarence Thomas’s Impartiality Questioned Amid Wife’s Activism

But Alito is not alone in his corrupt behavior. His colleague, Clarence Thomas, finds himself in an even more compromised position because of his wife’s direct involvement in the effort to overturn the 2020 election results.

Ginni Thomas, a conservative activist, was directly involved with the “Stop the Steal” movement, sending frantic text messages to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows urging him to take extraordinary measures to keep Donald Trump in power. Her involvement went beyond mere activism—she actively lobbied state lawmakers to reject the legitimate election results and even attended the rally that preceded the Capitol insurrection. If she wasn’t married to Clarence Thomas, her actions might have subjected her to criminal charges.

Given his wife’s involvement in this anti-democratic effort, it is inconceivable that Clarence Thomas could be impartial in any cases related to the events of January 6th. His refusal to recuse himself from these cases is a blatant disregard for judicial ethics and a slap in the face to the principles of due process enshrined in our Constitution.

Luxury Travel and Tuition: Generosity or Bribes?

Furthermore, in 2023 ProPublica discovered that Clarence Thomas has enjoyed more than two decades worth of undisclosed luxury travel bankrolled by Republican mega-donor Harlan Crow. Thomas’ defense—that unnamed colleagues had advised such lavish gifts need not be reported—does little to assuage concerns over potential conflicts of interest.

The exposé uncovered how the conservative justice frequently vacationed at Crow’s private resort homes, flew on his private jet, and attended high-end sporting events, all funded by the wealthy GOP benefactor. These undisclosed benefits, likely worth millions over the years, raise troubling ethical questions about Thomas’ impartiality on cases involving Crow’s business interests or partisan causes he champions.

ProPublica also revealed that Crow covered the $6000 per month private school tuition for the justice’s grandnephew, whom Thomas was raising as his son. Additionally, Crow purchased the home belonging to Thomas’ mother while allowing her to continue living there rent-free.

Alito and Thomas Open to Presidential Immunity

The founding fathers, who fought tirelessly to establish a system of checks and balances and safeguard the rule of law, would be appalled at the conduct of Alito and Thomas. These men, entrusted with upholding the highest ideals of justice and impartiality, have instead chosen to prioritize their personal and political agendas over the sanctity of our democratic institutions.

Justice Thomas’s judicial recusals (or lack thereof) stand out. When the Supreme Court rejected Trump’s bid to block the release of records to the January 6 committee, Thomas was the only dissenter. 

Justice Thomas and Alito’s refusal to recuse themselves from cases related to the January 6th insurrection aligns alarmingly with their apparent belief that a president can operate above the law. During hearings on Trump’s claims of presidential immunity, Alito and Thomas appeared open to the disturbing argument that the president should be shielded from criminal prosecution—a notion fundamentally at odds with the principles of a nation governed by the rule of law.

The Supreme Court’s new ethics code explicitly states that a justice “should disqualify himself or herself in a proceeding in which the Justice’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” This guideline exists precisely to prevent the erosion of judicial legitimacy in the eyes of the public. Yet, it seems that both Alito and Thomas believe they can flout these rules with impunity.

Williams v. Pennsylvania: Landmark Ruling on Judicial Bias

The broader implications are profound. If Justices Alito and Thomas do not recuse themselves from matters related to January 6th, they could decisively influence the outcome of cases determining Trump’s culpability in the insurrection. This potential bias would not only undermine the integrity of these critical cases but also set a dangerous precedent for judicial conduct.

The recusal statute, formally known as 28 U.S.C. Section 455, mandates judicial disqualification in any proceeding where impartiality might reasonably be questioned. This rule applies equally to all federal judges, including Supreme Court justices. Ignoring this statute essentially grants these justices immunity from ethical accountability.

Chief Justice John Roberts and the other justices have a constitutional and statutory duty to enforce recusal standards. Case law suggests they should raise the matter themselves if there is evident bias among their peers. Ignoring such clear signs of partisanship would only erode the court’s reputation further.

In a 2016 case, Williams v. Pennsylvania, the Supreme Court ruled that a judge’s failure to recuse themselves because of the appearance of bias is a violation of due process. The case concerned the bias of a judge who had been involved as a prosecutor on the case he was ruling on. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that judicial bias is a serious constitutional defect, stating that “no man can be a judge in his own case.” This precedent underscores the importance of objectivity and impartiality in judicial proceedings, principles thoroughly compromised by Alito and Thomas.

The Democratic leadership, including President Biden, needs to consider the serious implications of this erosion of judicial integrity. Public skepticism toward the Court will only increase if these ethical dilemmas are left unaddressed. Supreme Court justices are not kings and shouldn’t be treated as such.

Judicial Ethics Crisis: A Betrayal of Founding Ideals

Our founding fathers would be appalled by the current state of judicial ethics at the highest court of the land. They envisioned a judiciary free from undue influences that is committed to upholding the Constitution. They could not have imagined that Supreme Court justices would accept luxury gifts or display symbols of sedition at their homes.

These glaring ethical breaches by Justices Alito and Thomas necessitate immediate action. The integrity of our judicial system—so crucial for maintaining public trust in democratic governance—is at stake. The Department of Justice, led by Merrick Garland, must invoke the due process clause and the federal statute on judicial disqualification to forcefully petition for their recusal. Anything less would be a betrayal of the constitutional principles this nation was built upon.