JUDICIAL BEHAVIOR AND JUSTICE ANTONIN SCALIA

JUDICIAL BEHAVIOR AND JUSTICE ANTONIN SCALIA

In reading my Bible this morning I read the following passage:

"Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless. (Isaiah 10:1)

It made me think about the gutless legislators who support unjust laws which Scalia they know are improper because they want to be re-elected or because they have accepted financial support obligating them to do so.

The Bible also says: "Blessed are they who maintain justice , who constantly do what is right" I reflected on this passage and the conduct of judges in this country.

It seems to me, Americans have the right to expect the highest ethical conduct from members of the judiciary and especially members of the U.S. Supreme Court. Their behavior should reflect impartiality and fairness. We have the right to expect that judges will avoid even the appearance of impropriety. Certainly no judge should accept any gratuity which could be viewed as ethically improper. We expect members of the judiciary to be impartial and honest to a fault. When it comes to the U.S. Supreme court, Americans have the right to expect the members to exhibit the highest ethical behavior.

There are an abundant number of examples in our legislative and Judaical branches that illustrate gross violations of these principles. When we are talking about what we expect from a justice on the U.S. Supreme court, however, Justice Antonin Scalia immediately comes to my mind. His conduct has been a subject of comment for his questionable  behavior. I’ve commented about his conduct in the past.

His angry, rude dissents involving personal attacks on fellow Justice’s have been noted by more than legal observers. His unprofessional conduct towards lawyers arguing before the Supreme Court have been discussed by many. His general behavior has been a subject of discussion as well. In March 2006 A Boston newspaper reported that as the justice was leaving church services he was asked a question. The newspaper reported:

“The judge paused for a second, then looked directly into my lens and said, ‘To my critics, I say, ‘Vaffanculo,’ ” punctuating the comment by flicking his right hand out from under his chin, Smith said. The Italian phrase means “(expletive) you.”

He has been criticized for his comments in speeches he has given around the country, usually to conservative organizations, which either attack his fellow Justices or which improperly comment on matters pending before the court. A few examples are these: In 2003 during a speech to a conservative group, he unloaded a scathing criticism of the other Supreme Court justices in a case which struck down Texas’ gay sodomy law. In 1996 with two euthanasia cases pending before the court, he gave a speech claiming there was "no constitutional right to die." In 2004, U.S. Marshal’s accompanying Justice Scalia, ordered reporters with the Associated Press to erase recordings of a speech he had made. Afterwords it was acknowledged that their actions were totally improper.

The Federalist Society is a group of conservatives dedicated to reforming the legal system to their image. They lead tort reform efforts and support conservative judicial appointments and legal positions. Newspapers report Justice Scalia wasn’t present for the swearing in of the new Supreme Court appointee, Justice Roberts, because he was playing tennis and going fly fishing at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Colorado – for free – because it was all paid for by the Federalist Society. This was just one many documented connections with the organization while sitting on the Supreme Court.

Many of Justice Scalia’s unpaid travels are linked to persons and organizations tied to the Republican party or those with an agenda for tort reform and conservative positions. The Federalist Society and prominent Republican donors pay for trips he has taken.When a case involving the question of whether the Bush administration could hold prisoners indefinitely was before the court, Justice Scalia went on a hunting trip with Dick Cheney, for free of course. Title 28,Section 455 of the U.S. Code says judges must recuse themselves from any case in which their "impartiality might reasonably be questioned." Refusing to recuse himself from the case, he voted in favor of the Bush administration.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is well known for their open, but often concealed support of conservatives and for tort reform legislation. The Chamber began funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars into Mississippi in support of tort reform judges and issues. It was reported, however, as their practice, the Chamber hid behind a front organization. Suits were filed in state court to obtain injunctions against Chamber advertising as violating Mississippi election and disclosure laws. The state courts issued injunctions. Lawyers for the Chamber then bypassed all of the court proceeding by appealing directly to Justice Scalia who promptly dissolved the state injunction and authorized the ads to go forward. Not only that, he did so without hearing from the other side. Lawyers involved were flabbergasted, but could do nothing.

Then there is the well known Gore vs Bush story. Scalia’s own son had been involved in advising the Bush campaign and was given a job in the federal government after the Bush election. In addition, George Bush was a friend of Justice Scalia. In spite of this, we all know about his key role in the debacle in which the Supreme Court put George Bush in the white house.

In our state judges can be disciplined for ethical violations and even voted out of office. Lawyers can be disciplined or even have their license taken for improper conduct. Not so the U.S. supreme Court. Appointed for life, members of the U.S. Supreme Court are untouchable. The can only be removed by death, resignation or impeachment. No Justice has ever been removed by impeachment. As a result, a Justice can decide to just thumb his or her nose at America and do whatever in the world they want without fear of sanction. not only that, they can wield considerable power against anyone making any criticism especially members of the legal profession. In short, they  can throw their weight around as they want. It would appear Justice Scalia feels he doesn’t have to abide by the rule of conduct other judges feel obligated to follow. His judicial example is disturbing to many of us who are proud of the judicial system.

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