SCOTUS news and opinions


Super Moderator
Dec 24, 2001
Albuquerque, NM
NYT broke a story tonight about Chief Justice Robert's wife and her income stream that compromises Roberts. It also explains why Roberts doesn't want to investigate Clarence Thomas and his wife.

At the Supreme Court, Ethics Questions Over a Spouse’s Business Ties​

The chief justice’s wife, Jane Sullivan Roberts, has made millions in her career recruiting lawyers to prominent law firms, some of which have business before the court. Now, a letter sent to Congress claims that may present a conflict of interest.

Jan. 31, 2023
After Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joined the Supreme Court, his wife, Jane Sullivan Roberts, gave up her career as a law firm partner to become a high-end legal recruiter in an effort to alleviate potential conflicts of interest. Mrs. Roberts later recalled in an interview that her husband’s job made it “awkward to be practicing law in the firm.” Now, a former colleague of Mrs. Roberts has raised concerns that her recruiting work poses potential ethics issues for the chief justice. Seeking an inquiry, the ex-colleague has provided records to the Justice Department and Congress indicating Mrs. Roberts has been paid millions of dollars in commissions for placing lawyers at firms — some of which have business before the Supreme Court, according to a letter obtained by The New York Times. In his letter last month, Kendal Price, a 66-year-old Boston lawyer, argued that the justices should be required to disclose more information about their spouses’ work. He did not cite specific Supreme Court decisions, but said he was worried that a financial relationship with law firms arguing before the court could affect justices’ impartiality or at least give the appearance of doing so. “I do believe that litigants in U.S. courts, and especially the Supreme Court, deserve to know if their judges’ households are receiving six-figure payments from the law firms,” Mr. Price wrote.
In a statement, a spokeswoman for the Supreme Court, Patricia McCabe, said that all the justices were “attentive to ethical constraints” and complied with financial disclosure laws. The chief justice and his wife had also consulted the code of conduct for federal judges, Ms. McCabe said, including a 2009 advisory opinion that a judge “need not recuse merely because” his or her spouse had worked as a recruiter for a law firm with issues before the court. Mrs. Roberts previously said that she handled conflicts on a case-by-case basis, avoiding matters with any connection to her husband’s job and refraining from working with lawyers who had active Supreme Court cases. Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, did not address how the committee would respond to Mr. Price, but said in a statement that his letter raised “troubling issues that once again demonstrate the need” for ethics reforms to “begin the process of restoring faith in the Supreme Court.”

Public confidence in the court recently fell to a historic low, polls showed, and Democrats in Congress have called for greater transparency, including stronger disclosure and recusal standards. The Justice Department declined to comment. Mr. Price and Mrs. Roberts both had worked as legal recruiters for Major, Lindsey & Africa, a global firm based in Maryland. According to the letter, Mr. Price was fired in 2013 and sued the firm, as well as Mrs. Roberts and another executive, over his dismissal.

He lost the case, but the litigation produced documents that he sent to Congress and the Justice Department, including spreadsheets showing commissions attributed to Mrs. Roberts early in her headhunting career, from 2007 to 2014. Mrs. Roberts, according to a 2015 deposition in the case, said that a significant portion of her practice was devoted to helping senior government lawyers land jobs at law firms and that the candidates’ names were almost never disclosed. “I keep my placements confidential,” she said in the deposition. Mrs. Roberts, now the managing partner of the Washington office of Macrae Inc., had spent two decades at the law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, where she became a partner in the global technology group and also focused on talent development. In 2007, she changed careers and soon ascended the ranks of her new industry. Partners at leading law firms in Washington on average make well over $1 million a year, and at the high end, they can be paid over $7 million. Recruiting firms take a large cut from those placements, often equivalent to a quarter of the new hires’ first-year salaries. The spreadsheets list six-figure fees credited to Mrs. Roberts for placing partners at law firms — including $690,000 in 2012 for one such match. The documents do not name clients, but Mr. Price recalled her recruitment of one prominent candidate, Ken Salazar, then interior secretary under President Barack Obama, to WilmerHale, a global firm that boasts of arguing more than 125 times before the Supreme Court.

Justices, who are largely self-policed, are required to make annual disclosures about their finances — including the source of spouses’ income, the type and the date but not the amount. In his annual disclosure, the chief justice, who has apparently never recused himself from a case because of his wife’s work, listed her employers but not the names of her clients or her earnings, usually offering a brief description: “attorney search consultants — salary.”

Mr. Price argued in his letter that the labeling was misleading, because salaries are “guaranteed and steady,” but commissions “depend on cultivating and capitalizing on relationships in order to consummate particular deals.”

Joshua L. Dratel, who is representing Mr. Price, said in an email that the 2009 advisory opinion cited by the court gave credence to the ethical concerns raised in the letter, because Mrs. Roberts’s placements were not necessarily “isolated activities” but rather a “pattern of continuing involvement.”

The opinion says that judges should recuse themselves in certain situations, including if a spouse performed “four high level executive recruitments” for the same company in a year and collected large fees. That would constitute a “substantial and ongoing relationship,” but if the work were spread over a considerably longer period, “recusal may not be required.” An ethics opinion by Bennett L. Gershman, a Pace University law professor and former Manhattan prosecutor, accompanied the letter and said “it is plausible that the Chief Justice’s spouse may have leveraged the ‘prestige of the judicial office’” to “raise their household income.” He added that those concerns, coupled with what he described as the chief justice’s lack of disclosure of potential conflicts, “threaten the public’s trust in the federal judiciary, and the Supreme Court itself.” But another ethics expert, Amanda Frost, a law professor at the University of Virginia, said in an interview that Chief Justice Roberts appeared to have met his disclosure obligations. Ms. Frost said that judicial spouses should be able to have their own careers and that the chief justice would not need to recuse himself based on the nature of his wife’s work. “It feels hard to imagine how this would corrupt his vote,” she said. During the past year, the Supreme Court has contended with the leak of the draft decision overturning Roe v. Wade, as well as reports about the activities of Virginia Thomas, who joined efforts to overthrow the results of the 2020 presidential election. Her husband, Justice Clarence Thomas, later participated in court matters involving the election and the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

Mr. Price, in an interview, cited a “wave of revelations about the court and questionable decision-making or questionable behavior” as his impetus for coming forward now. Last September, Politico reported on Mrs. Roberts’s recruiting work and the confidentiality of her clients.
Only a half-dozen of the people she recruited have been publicly identified, according to news reports reviewed by The Times. They are Robert Bennett, former lawyer to President Bill Clinton, recruited to Hogan Lovells in 2009; Neil MacBride, former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, to Davis Polk in 2013; Mr. Salazar, to WilmerHale in 2013; Brendan Johnson and Timothy Purdon, former U.S. attorneys for South Dakota and North Dakota, to Robins Kaplan in 2015; and Michael Held, former lawyer for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, to WilmerHale in 2022. (Mr. Salazar is now U.S. ambassador to Mexico, and Mr. MacBride is general counsel at the Treasury.)

About two years ago, Mrs. Roberts discussed her Washington office’s work in one key sector, saying in an interview that of the nation’s 50 leading law firms, more than half had “asked us for help in growing their antitrust practices.”

The issue raised is about conflict of interest and the Justices being influenced by their wives activities. Roberts won't investigate Gini Thomas' influence, because that would mean he would have to investigate his own wife's situation.
It would seem to me that someone would need to claim that a specific conflict of interest, i.e. appointing this
lawyer and on that particular case had occurred, rather than merely pointing to the general potential for one.
It would seem to me that someone would need to claim that a specific conflict of interest, i.e. appointing this
lawyer and on that particular case had occurred, rather than merely pointing to the general potential for one.
Of course, specifics are helpful. The real issue that there is no mechanism for the Court to be investigated (like every other aspect/dept. of the government) nor standards of ethical behavior for SCOTUS.
opinions? because I think the court is too powerful for its own good.

I'd like to see the court abolished and replaced by an entirely new institution.
I don't know about abolished, but think it would be better for SCOTUS to act more like an actual arbiter of disputes about the law, rather than deciding the constitutionality of law and whether said law is void or not.

(much like who is allowed to be speaker of the house, what the court is specifically supposed to decide upon is very vague)

Everyone who takes the oath of office is already sworn to abide by the constitution; the Court should not have the final "say" in what that exactly means.

that'd mean overturning Marbury v Madison. But I'm allowed to dream.
I'd like to see the court abolished and replaced by an entirely new institution.
Having a high court is fine. Giving them carte blanche to invalidate acts of Congress is the real problem. Judicial review needs to go the way of the dodo.
Having a high court is fine. Giving them carte blanche to invalidate acts of Congress is the real problem. Judicial review needs to go the way of the dodo.

You do want some way to stop congress from making blatantly unconstitutional laws.

I would say, term limits would go a long way to limit the power of individual judges.

And the US constitutions is terribly outdated, which gives the court a lot of wiggle room. Updating it and making it easier to update it could also be a way to reign in the court.
And what would that be?

Ideally? Me.

As a practical compromise though, I would like to see composition of the court turn over much quicker than it does now. A full third of the government has been reserved for grandparents of the lawyer class. Term limits and an expansion of the bench. The current 9 keep their lifetime appointments, but limit newly appointed justices to say 20 years. Expand the bench to 11 or 13 seats, staggering the addition of new seats over time. Minimum of 4 years in between new seats, with no President able to add more than 1 seat, even if she or he serves 2 terms (she or he would still be able to replace seats that have been vacated still).
The current 9 keep their lifetime appointments

You are more forgiving than I am.
There are three who should be removed because they were appointed by one of the more infamous criminals in the Republic's history. And then there are two who should be removed because they are blatantly corrupt.

The other four can keep their lifetime appointments, I guess.

Supreme Court justices discussed, but did not agree on, code of conduct​

By Robert Barnes and Ann E. Marimow

The Supreme Court has failed to reach consensus on an ethics code of conduct specific to the nine justices despite internal discussion dating back at least four years, according to people familiar with the matter.

It remains an active topic at the court, these people said, and the court’s legal counsel Ethan Torrey prepared a working document of issues for them to consider. There is no timeline for the justices to act, however. Those familiar with the matter spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the situation. The inertia has frustrated critics, whose demands for reform have intensified. The court’s profile has only increased as a new majority has moved rapidly on a range of polarizing issues. That has also increased scrutiny on the justices, the activities of their spouses and when the court’s members should recuse themselves from cases.

Justice Clarence Thomas, whose wife Virginia “Ginni” Thomas took an active role in challenging the outcome of the 2020 presidential election while her husband considered cases on the subject, has become a particular focus.
This week, leaders of the American Bar Association joined those urging action, saying that “the absence of a clearly articulated, binding code of ethics for the justices of the Court imperils the legitimacy of the Court.” The call was not motivated by “any particular conduct by any one or more current or former members of the Court,” the group said. “This is a break-the-glass moment on Supreme Court ethics,” said Gabe Roth of the group Fix the Court, which has long advocated for greater accountability and transparency at the court. “I don’t think an ethics code is a panacea, but I think there is a perception that the justices are not taking their ethical responsibilities seriously enough.”

Although the justices say they voluntarily comply with the same ethical guidelines that apply to other federal judges, the lack of an ethics code has become a prominent complaint on Capitol Hill, where in 2019 Justice Elena Kagan told a congressional committee that Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. was “seriously” studying the issue. But a discussion among the justices failed to produce agreement, people familiar with the matter said. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), who sponsored legislation to create a code of conduct for the court, said Americans are becoming impatient. “I do not understand why there has not been a conclusion reached on this so-called study,” Johnson said. “It just seems like it has been quietly dropped, hoping the public will turn its attention to other matters and never come back to this issue.”

Roberts declined to comment for this article. But in the past, the chief justice said he and his colleagues voluntarily comply with the same standards that govern other judges, including recusal from cases in which they or close family members might have a financial interest. Justices file annual financial disclosure forms, including reports on outside income, travel paid for by others and gifts. Those annual disclosure reports include stock ownership and notices of spousal employment.

Supreme Court justices, like other federal judges, are subject to a federal recusal statute that requires disqualification from “any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” But Roberts and other justices have said in the past that they cannot be bound by all of the rules that apply to lower court judges because of the unique role the Constitution assigns the Supreme Court as the ultimate decision-maker in the nation’s judiciary. That raises issues about who would adjudicate ethics complaints that might be filed against the justices, they say, and complicates recusal decisions. Justices make their own calls about when to recuse, and no other judge is authorized to replace them.

Legal ethics experts say it is possible for the justices to create a code and that there is benefit in publicly pledging to comply with certain standards. A group of scholars last year urged the court to act on its own rather than allow Congress to prescribe a remedy that could raise separation of powers issues. Steven Lubet, one of the signers and an emeritus law professor at Northwestern University, acknowledged there are serious questions about who would adjudicate complaints made against the justices. Nonetheless, he said the court underestimates the importance of the justices committing to greater transparency. “The public would understand what the rules are that the court is following internally,” he said.

The court’s off-and-on consideration of such standards suggests at least some members believe there is a value as well.

Kagan and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. discussed the issue before a congressional committee in March 2019 that was considering the court’s budget request. Alito stressed during the hearing that justices attempt to conduct themselves according to judicial conduct codes and “in a manner that appears to the public that is fully ethical.” But he underscored the difficulties of simply complying with the code that governs lower-court judges. Kagan indicated she believes there was value in the court making a pledge. “The chief justice is studying the question of whether to have a code of judicial conduct that is applicable only to the United States Supreme Court,” Kagan said at the time. “That’s something we have not discussed as a conference yet, and has pros and cons I’m sure, but it’s something that’s being thought very seriously about.”

But agreement was apparently elusive.

The more recent attempt by the court’s legal counsel to identify the issues a code of conduct would address — one person familiar with the matter was reluctant to call it a draft — has been slowed by the disruption caused by the pandemic, the addition of new members of the court and the investigation of the leak last spring of Alito’s draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which ended the constitutional protection for abortion. And now there is the matter of workload. The court is deciding a host of issues, will hear more cases through April and is off to a historic delay in issuing opinions in the arguments already conducted.

The independence of the justices also complicates reaching agreement on internal matters. But they have done it in the past. In 1993, for instance, seven of the justices, noting concerns that “even one unnecessary recusal impairs the functioning of the court,” said they would nonetheless generally sit out cases in which participants work for law firms in which their relatives are partners or would profit from the case.

But critics say recent incidents demand urgency.

Virginia “Ginni” Thomas met in September with the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol riot. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post) Most often-cited are the efforts by Ginni Thomas — a conservative activist before the Thomases married decades ago — encouraging state legislators and White House officials not to give up on efforts to reverse the 2020 presidential election results. Clarence Thomas did not recuse himself from litigation before the court regarding that issue, or issues involving the congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol.

Ginni Thomas was interviewed by the committee, where she said she does not consult her husband about her activities, and he does not discuss the court’s work with her. Clarence Thomas did not respond to questions about his wife’s activities or his decision to participate in the cases.

Several media outlets reported on what a former antiabortion evangelical leader said were efforts to encourage conservative justices to be bold in decisions regarding the procedure. Alito denied a specific allegation from the Rev. Rob Schenck to the New York Times that the justice or his wife disclosed to conservative donors the outcome of a pending 2014 case regarding contraceptives and religious rights. Lawmakers asked Roberts why he had not investigated Schenck’s allegation, since the pastor made it to the chief justice in a letter before going public with the charge. Instead, the court’s legal counsel Torrey responded: “There is nothing to suggest that Justice Alito’s actions violated ethical standards.” He indicated the matter was closed with Alito’s denial.

Alito was among four of the five conservative justices who voted to overturn Roe v. Wade who received a hero’s welcome at a gala for the conservative Federalist Society last fall — Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett were the others. But such appearances have raised questions on both sides of the court’s ideological divide. In the weeks before the landmark decision was overturned, Justice Sonia Sotomayor appeared at the liberal American Constitution Society, where she acknowledged “there are moments where I am deeply, deeply disappointed” with being on the losing side of the court’s major legal battles. Sotomayor strolled through the adoring audience of progressive lawyers, shaking hands as she continued to answer questions and urged the crowd not to lose faith in the court.

In 2020, leaders of the judiciary’s governing body proposed barring federal judges from belonging to either the Federalist Society or the ACS because of concerns that membership in either group could “call into question a judge’s impartiality.” But the draft from the Judicial Conference’s code of conduct committee was quickly scuttled after pushback from more than 200 judges. While Roberts and Kagan have declined to address groups with such ideological leanings, Alito has vigorously defended federal jurists who choose to affiliate with such organizations. In a speech to the conservative group, he praised the “many judges and lawyers who stood up to an attempt to hobble the debate that the Federalist Society fosters.” He added that “we should all express our thanks to these defenders of free speech.”

There has been more attention on the justice’s spouses, and whether their activities create conflicts. While the justices must note their spouses’ employment, they — as well as other federal judges — are not required to disclose specific clients or activities.

Ginni Thomas’s activities are political, but she runs her own consulting firm. Roberts’s wife, Jane, who gave up her partnership at a large law firm after her husband was confirmed as chief justice, is a legal recruiter. Barrett’s husband, Jesse, opened a Washington office for his Indiana-based law firm. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s husband, Patrick, is a doctor, but she had to amend her financial disclosure to note he has consulted as an expert in medical malpractice cases.
In recent years, there were bipartisan efforts in Congress to require a code of conduct and enhance financial disclosure requirements for justices. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) expressed concern in a 2021 letter to Roberts that justices of “our highest court are subject to the lowest standards of transparency of any senior officials across the federal government.”

But some on the right now attribute the increased scrutiny of the court to the simple fact that a conservative supermajority is swiftly changing its jurisprudence on controversial issues. That would likely inhibit any move in Congress to either try to enact a Supreme Court-specific code of conduct or demand the court enact one itself. Roth, of Fix the Court, acknowledged that congressional calls for reform have a partisan tone. But he also noted there was bipartisan criticism of the court’s internal investigation of the Roe leak, which failed to identify a culprit and in which justices were not subjected to the same sworn testimony that other court employees faced.

“There are some partisan legs to this — people going after this justice or that justice because of opinions they don’t agree with,” Roth said. “But given the justices’ power, they are going to be scrutinized like presidents and members of Congress now. I think that is fair.”

The issue raised is about conflict of interest and the Justices being influenced by their wives activities. Roberts won't investigate Gini Thomas' influence, because that would mean he would have to investigate his own wife's situation.
This is less concerning than Thomas' wife, but it AGAIN highlights the need for Court to establish rules of behavior for the judges that must be made PUBLIC to ensure transparency. Right now, SCOTUS is the closest thing to royalty we have in the federal government.
Don't laugh. Each new Congress gets to set its own rules. Witness how the Republicans made key changes to existing rules in January.
That's my point. Why trust a legal body to regulate itself regarding its own behavior? It's like saying that excesses of the aristocratic class are nothing to worry about because their strong moral fiber among one another will prevent anything too egregious.
That's my point. Why trust a legal body to regulate itself regarding its own behavior? It's like saying that excesses of the aristocratic class are nothing to worry about because their strong moral fiber among one another will prevent anything too egregious.
Both Congress and the Executive Branch have Inspector Generals who can investigate and have whistle blower rules, in addition to ethical standards. SCOTUS has none.
Both Congress and the Executive Branch have Inspector Generals who can investigate and have whistle blower rules, in addition to ethical standards. SCOTUS has none.
Sounds lame, but I guess there's always something somewhere that seeks to escape regulation. Everyone likes to be the "exception" to the rules so they can feel special, like an FBI agent flashing a badge while everyone whispers about how, "ooo, the feds!" and they get to be treated differently.
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