Criminal Justices

Committing perjury. Accepting bribes. Taking away our rights. All in a day's work at the Roberts Supreme Court.

Criminal Justices

When former Trump attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress in 2018, as part of a plea deal that resulted in his three-year prison sentence, there was some speculation that others who had committed the same crime on behalf of Donald Trump would also be brought to justice.

After all, even then-House Speaker Paul Ryan welcomed the charge, saying Cohen “should be prosecuted to the extent of the law. That’s why we put people under oath.”

As noted:

Under federal law (18 U.S.C. Section 1001), it is a crime to “knowingly and willfully” conceal something from or make a false statement to Congress — punishable with up to five years in prison.

At the time, the list of Trump-connected criminals who might conceivably be charged for their own lies to Congress included: Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner, Jeff Sessions, former campaign advisors Carter Page and Michael Caputo, and former deputy national security adviser K. T. McFarland.

But those perjurers all walk free. As does Roger Stone who, though convicted of lying to Congress (and other crimes on behalf of Trump) in 2019, was pardoned by the beneficiary of his illegal acts in 2020.

Somebodies Are Above the Law

As many have noted, SCOTUS nominees from Thomas to Alito to Gorsuch to Kavanaugh to Barrett have made lying under oath a rite of passage en route to building the conservative majority necessary to overturn Roe v. Wade.

These lies have helped establish the now-radicalized court as "an existential threat to U.S. democracy."

Whether or not the carefully worded lies each of these nominees told to Congress rise to the level of prosecutable perjury, certain Justices are clearly guilty of crimes and ethical abuses that should have disqualified them as nominees—and/or justify impeaching them now.

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testifying during Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination hearing

Exhibit A: Brett Kavanaugh

When Brett Kavanaugh was nominated to the Supreme Court in 2018, it emerged that he had lied to Congress while under oath at least five times during prior Congressional hearings. Each of those crimes could have landed him with five years in the slammer.

As Lisa Graves wrote in Slate, Kavanaugh's pattern of proven perjuries should not only have disqualified him from getting promoted to a job-for-life on the Supreme Court, they should have gotten him fired from the job he already had. "By his own standard," wrote Graves. "He should clearly be impeached."

All of that was before both the American Bar Association and Yale Law School called for Kavanaugh's confirmation to be delayed because of sexual assault and misconduct allegations made by Christine Blasey Ford and others.

After a sham investigation into the Trump nominee's alleged sexual assaults during which "the FBI sent tips that the agency had collected about Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Trump White House without investigation," the still-beer-loving Justice arrived at the Supreme Court with 83 "serious" ethical complaints around his neck.

Fortunately for Kavanaugh, though, his fellow Bush v. Gore alum Chief Justice Roberts waited until after his buddy was confirmed to the Supreme Court before sending the complaints to the special judicial council panel of judges he assigned to review them.

That delay turned out to be especially convenient when the judge in charge of the review—Timothy Tymkovich, chief judge on the 10th circuit court of appeals in Colorado—dismissed all 83 ethical complaints because the special judicial council panel of judges that Roberts had assigned lacked "any statutory authority to investigate or act on complaints against Supreme Court justices."

In other words, you can't punish a U.S. Supreme Court judge for crimes that helped him become a Supreme Court judge any more than you can arrest a U.S. President for crimes he committed that helped make him the U.S. President.

When it also emerged that Kavanaugh had lobbied for Tymkovich in 2001, helping him "secure a lifetime appointment as a federal judge," The Guardian noted in 2018 that this kind of revelation might add to "concerns about the politicization of the supreme court."

Verdict: Kavanaugh is GUILTY of lying to Congress multiple times. He should have been impeached from the federal bench and disqualified from consideration even before the sexual assault allegations against him were made public. Those allegations should have been fully investigated. Kavanaugh should be removed from the Supreme Court.

Anita Hill testifying in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee during Clarence Thomas's Supreme Court confirmation hearing.

Exhibit B: Clarence Thomas

Clarence Thomas, according to The Root, has had a "Messy Life."

He cheated on his first wife Kathy Ambush with Lillian McEwen, who has "written about the salacious affair in her memoir and has spoken publicly about it. According to Lillian, Thomas had an obsession with porn and drank heavily when they were together."

After separating from his first wife in 1981 (the divorce became final in 1984), Thomas also allegedly harassed the young Anita Hill in 1982 and 1983. As The Root writes:

During the confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, Anita Hill, a former legal adviser of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission EEOC, accused him of sexual harassment. She said he repeatedly asked her on dates, even after her refusal; Anita Hill also said Thomas described pornographic material in excessive detail and described his own sexual life as well as his anatomy to her. Thomas strongly denied the accusations and claimed that the testimony led to a sort of “modern-day lynching” of his character.

By the time he was confirmed to the Supreme Court in 1991, Thomas was married to his second wife Ginni, who would later become famous for her involvement in the attempted modern-day lynching of Vice President Mike Pence.

Thomas' ethically dubious association with Dallas real estate magnate Harlan Crow was first revealed in 2011. But the true extent of his ethics issues—and those of his wife Ginni—are only now being fully documented.

As Li Zhou wrote for Vox:

Beyond the actual rule violations, Thomas’s actions also signal concerning conflicts of interest for one of the most powerful judges in the country. That wealthy conservative figures have bankrolled the lives of Thomas and his wife severely undercuts the Supreme Court’s appearance of independence and impartiality.

Virginia Canter, the chief ethics counsel at CREW, the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, in Washington, told Vox:

“Under any reasonable standard, the totality of the trips, gifts, the tuition payments, we’re talking potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars, it’s so egregious it could bring down the credibility of the court as an institution."

NPR summed it up this way:

For probably two decades, Thomas and his wife, Ginni Thomas, have gone on lavish trips around the globe paid for by his Republican megadonor friend Harlan Crow... Crow paid the private school tuition for Thomas' grandnephew and bought properties owned by Thomas and his family. Thomas never disclosed any of this, as he was required to do under the disclosure provisions of the federal Ethics in Government Act, which applies to all federal judges, including Supreme Court justices.

Given what we now know about "Corrupt Clarence" and his wife Ginni, it's distressing to remember how the sexual harassment allegations against Clarence Thomas were given such short shrift in 1991. That failure—despited the compelling testimony of Anita Hill—was only magnified at the height of the "Me Too" movement in 2018 when the FBI colluded with the Trump White House to ensure that similar allegations against Brett Kavanaugh were not fully investigated.

Even as he threw some Trump-like insults at Anita Hill, Thomas himself admitted in his own 2007 memoir that he was problem drinker in frequent financial distress throughout the 1980s. As The Root noted: "While working at the EEOC, he also received several eviction notices, couldn’t pay loans, or pay his credit cards."

In 2010, his former mistress Lillian McEwen—by then a retired federal judge—told The New York Times she was surprised her testimony was not sought during the Thomas confirmation hearings, saying that he "would not have been on the court if the real Clarence"—including threesomes with female colleagues—"had actually been revealed."

Verdict: As a self-admitted problem drinker who spent years of his early adulthood in financial distress, Clarence Thomas appears to have welcomed the warm embrace and generosity of the wealthy donors who "befriended" him. But the tsunami of recent revelations about his (and his wife's) frequently illegal and utterly unethical lifestyle—concealed by false disclosures dating back 25 years—lead to only one conclusion: if he does not resign, he must be impeached.

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, center, and hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer, right, hold king salmon with another guest (via Propublica)

Exhibit C: Samuel Alito

In June,  Propublica followed up on its Clarence Thomas revelations by revealing that Justice Samuel Alito "violated a federal law that requires justices to disclose most gifts, according to ethics law experts" by failing to disclose that he had enjoyed an all-expenses-paid, luxury fishing trip to Alaska, complete with private jet travel, paid for by hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer, a major Republican donor, who has been involved in 10 appeals to the Supreme Court.

As the article noted:

If the justice chartered the plane himself, the cost could have exceeded $100,000 one way.... Experts said they could not identify an instance of a justice ruling on a case after receiving an expensive gift paid for by one of the parties.... Such trips would be unheard of for the vast majority of federal workers, who are generally barred from taking even modest gifts.

As NPR reported:

Instead of responding to ProPublica's written questions, Alito did something no justice before him has done. He defended his conduct in an op-ed published on the editorial page of the conservative-friendly Wall Street Journal.

Singer's investment in Alito paid off in ways that surely delighted the hedge fund billionaire. One of the cases that Alito ruled on landed Singer a $2.4 billion windfall.

But, as Propublica's original report revealed, the corruption went far deeper than that:

Leonard Leo, the longtime leader of the conservative Federalist Society, attended and helped organize the Alaska fishing vacation. Leo invited Singer to join, according to a person familiar with the trip, and asked Singer if he and Alito could fly on the billionaire’s jet. Leo had recently played an important role in the justice’s confirmation to the court. Singer and the lodge owner were both major donors to Leo’s political groups.

Fresh salmon should have little to no smell. But everything about this case is as toxic as sewer gas. As Dahlia Lithwick wrote in Slate: "Alito knew perfectly well that such gifts were to be reported, because he had reported others. He also knew that his relationship with Paul Singer, the hedge fund magnate with business before the court, might require recusal."

Verdict: Alito has broken the law and made a mockery of the ethics standards even low-level government workers must adhere to. He should be impeached.

Additional Ethical Complaints

As the three examples above show, the rot runs deep in the Roberts court. And it rots from the head down.

Chief Justice John Roberts has failed to establish even a basic code of conduct for the scofflaws who surround him—even as they openly take bribes from those with business before the court.

As Politico wrote in April:

The code of conduct for lower court U.S. judges says judges should “avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all activities,” and “discourages frequent transactions or continuing business relationships with lawyers or other persons likely to come before the court” on which the judge serves.

In terms of "the appearance of impropriety," Neil Gorsuch hit the ground running when he was sworn into Merrick Garland's stolen seat in 2017. Nine days later, he sold a property he co-owned in Colorado to the CEO of law firm Greenberg Traurig. On his disclosure forms, he then chose to act super-shady by leaving blank the identity of the purchaser. As Politico reported in April 2023: "Since then, Greenberg Traurig has been involved in at least 22 cases before or presented to the court."

Meanwhile, in the absence of any semblance of ethical standards, Roberts and Justice Amy Coney Barrett are able to shield their spouses from potential conflict of interest disclosures related to their own lucrative work in the legal field.

As The New York Times has reported, Jane Sullivan Roberts "has made millions in her career recruiting lawyers to prominent law firms, some of which have business before the court." As one client told Politico, his firm hired her at least in part because “her network is his network and vice versa.”

Barrett's husband Jesse works at a small law firm called SouthBank Legal that boasts it has dozens of Fortune 500 companies as clients, including "over 15 in the Fortune 100." How many of those have business before the court? Good luck finding out. Justice Barrett, reports Politico: "not only withholds her husband’s clients, but redacted the name of SouthBank Legal itself in her most recent disclosure."

The Supreme Court Is Now Driving the Steamroller of Fascism

The idea that the politicization of the Supreme Court has threatened its legitimacy is not new.

But we have now reached the point where conservative Supreme Court judges are not simply easier to bribe than FIFA officials—they are transparently advancing an anti-democratic, white supremacist, Christian nationalist agenda that prioritizes the goals of billionaire donors and religious extremists ahead of the rights and freedoms of everyone else.

As Michael Moore wrote recently:

All six right wing Justices have committed various ethical infractions — but have not been sanctioned or removed. Oh, they’ve also taken wholesale rights away from women, the LGBTQ+ community and people of color. Plus, they’ve gutted the EPA, expanded gun “rights,” and killed Biden’s student loan debt relief plan.

In addition to the stealth, multi-decade attack on the America's courts conducted by the likes of the Kochs, ALEC and the GOP that have undermined the independence of the entire judiciary, the current Supreme Court is permanently tainted by the fact that three of its members were nominated by a criminal.

Trump committed crimes to become President. He committed crimes while President. He has continued to commit crimes since losing the 2020 election.

None of his Supreme Court nominees should be considered legitimate on that basis alone.

Add to that: Trump's first nominee—Gorsuch—took a stolen seat. His second nominee—Kavanaugh—should have been impeached for his criminal actions before he got nominated. The confirmation of his third nominee—Barrett—was illegitimate based on the rule Republicans used to deny Garland his seat in 2016.

The fact that all three Trump nominees lied to Congress under oath and, post-confirmation, have failed to demonstrate the kind of ethical behavior we expect of all public officials—most of all judges—means that if they are not being removed, the Court must be expanded.

In America, for the rule of law to mean anything, the highest court in the land must adhere to the highest ethical standards.

The fact that it doesn't is more than corrupt. It’s criminal.

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