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Supreme Court’s ethical lapses are a call to action

Justices’ inappropriate coziness with billionaire benefactors is another reminder of what’s at stake in re-election of President Biden



WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 21, 2023) — The latest Supreme Court ethics revelation is that Justice Samuel Alito — like Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch before him — accepted a lavish, undisclosed gift from a billionaire whose corporation had cases before the court, cases in which Alito failed to recuse himself and the billionaire prevailed.

You’ll recall that the virulently anti-union Alito was the architect of the anti-union Janus decision in 2018 that required unions to provide services to certain public employees for free, a case entirely financed by anti-union billionaires like Alito’s fishing buddy who paid to fly him on a private jet to a luxury resort in Alaska.

Yesterday at the Economic Policy Institute’s Working Economics Blog, in a posting that preceded the latest news about Alito from ProPublica, Eve Tahmincioglu, Celine McNicholas and Daniel Costa wrote about why these Supreme Court justices’ close ties with business interests are a clear threat to workers’ rights:

Workers should pay attention to news that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has been wined and dined by a billionaire businessman for years without disclosures, while Justice Neil Gorsuch sold property to a law firm executive who has been involved in numerous cases before the court. It will come as no surprise that justices receiving lavish gifts are going to side with the interests of their wealthy benefactors when a case comes before them involving business interests versus workers’ rights.

We can all hope the law will prevail, and that some of the moves to install new codes of ethics can restore some of the integrity of the court, but the Republican-appointed justices’ track record is dismal when it comes to empowering workers.

The Supreme Court has played an important role in the decades-long campaign to erode workers’ rights in this country. In particular, the Supreme Court has issued rulings that have undermined everything from workers’ rights to form unions, the ability to build strong unions, and health and safety on the job. This term, the Supreme Court once again sided with corporations in Glacier Northwest v. Teamsters to make it easier for employers to sue unions over their decision to strike.

Beyond Glacier, the authors then offer a rundown of several key Supreme Court decisions that hurt workers just in the last few years, including Janus.

It should come as no surprise that the lifetime appointees of the Supreme Court who police themselves feel comfortable flouting ethical standards that would seem to be common sense to the rest of us. After all, every one of the nation’s 2 million federal employees face stricter ethical rules than these justices do when it comes to accepting gifts.

Earlier this month, more than 90 retired Washington state Superior Court judges signed a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts expressing “grave concerns” about revelations of ethical quagmires on the court and calling on him to take measures to preserve the court’s integrity.

In April, Roberts rejected calls from the U.S. Senate to strengthen the court’s ethical standards and declined an invitation to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Instead, he offered a weak “statement of ethics” signed by all nine justices. But as reports of additional ethical lapses continued to surface, Roberts suggested in May that there is more the Supreme Court can do to “adhere to the highest standards” of ethical conduct, an acknowledgment that recent reports of ethical missteps is having an effect on public perception of the court.

For folks in the labor movement, our “perception of the court” has been guided by decades of actual decisions. The court has repeatedly sided with corporations in cases that have slowly eroded workers’ fundamental right to join together in a union to negotiate for better wages and working conditions.

Having our suspicions confirmed about conservative justices being influenced by wealthy corporate benefactors shouldn’t end with, “See? I told you so.” America’s working families have too much at stake to simply be cynical. These unaccountable extremists on the nation’s highest court have taken away abortion rights, watered down voting rights, and definitely have their sights set on taking away your right to strike and join together in unions.

So the next time somebody rolls their eyes at you over the prospect of a Biden vs. Trump rematch in 2024, you need to make that person understand that Biden is not only the most pro-labor president in our lifetimes, he also appointed Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, a justice willing to stand up for our basic rights.

It’s another reason why we need to do everything we can to re-elect Joe Biden next year.


David Groves is Editor of The Stand.

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