"Private Jetsetter Justice Alito" by R.J. Matson, CQ Roll Call

I am an attorney, former part-time judge, and strong supporter of the rule of law and the judicial system that interprets and enforces that law.

Our judicial system relies on independent — and hopefully knowledgeable and analytical — judges to ensure we remain a nation of laws and not of men and women. To work, and even to survive, our system of justice and its rulings must be respected and followed by the public. Our judges must put aside their personal opinions and biases and make objective decisions. They must not be influenced by friendships, loyalties, or favors. They must abide by the oath thay all take to faithfully uphold the law.

But it is not enough to avoid actual bias, impropriety, or favoritism. Our judges must also dilligently avoid even the appearance of bias, impropriety, or favoritism. Failure to do this also undermines public confidence and trust in the rulings of our courts and in the very law itself. The resulting distrust contributes to chaos and anarchy.

The United States Supreme Court, as the highest court in the land, is tasked with the responsiblity to make the most important decisions about our democracy, our safety, and well-being, even about life and death. Along with this task comes the responsibility to set the highest and strictest example of judicial ethics and propriety.

Sadly at least two of our justices, Thomas and Alito, have failed to set this example and have severely damaged the reputation and authority of the court.

Justice Thomas has accepted gifts worth thousands, even millions of dollars from a conservative billionaire who clearly would like to see his views followed by the court.

Justice Thomas voted to rule the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional at the very same time that his wife advertised herself as a lobbyist with the single purpose of repealing Obamacare. He then voted against releasing documents relating to the January 6 attack on the Capitol at the same time as his wife was actively working to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

We now learn that Justice Alito received vacation gifts worth thousands of dollars from another wealthy conservative.

Sadly, neither justice sees any problem with their actions. Justice Thomas simply stated he thought he did not have to disclose gifts from a friend and said he would amend his financial disclosure form. Justice Alito wrote an Op-Ed describing the then-unpublished article disclosing his trip as an attack and stating the gift of a private plane ride to Alaska and luxury accommodations at a salmon fishing resort was not significant. He betrayed a total lack of understanding of ethics and twisted and illogical thinking one would not expect from a legal mind, let alone a Supreme Court justice, suggesting that filling an otherwise empty seat on a private jet was of little cost to the donor and therefore not a significant gift to Alito. He apparently could not find a way to apply his logic to the resort. In any case, any remedial ethics course would tell Justice Alito that it is the value of the gift to the recipient donee, not the donor, that raises the specter of obligation and impropriety.

It would have taken only a microsecond for any of our good local judges to decline the gifts offered to the justices and to recuse themselves from cases affecting family members. At a minimum Justices Thomas and Alito should acknowledge the errors of their ways and pledge to correct their behavior. If they cannot do this and comprehend the basic principles of ethics they should resign. If they cannot live on their $280,000 annual salary, they should seek other employnent. Shame on them.


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