by Mike Kimel
To Honor Scalia
I’ve been thinking about the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Apparently, he died while on a free, all-expenses paid trip to a very exclusive resort. The trip was paid for by an undisclosed benefactor and the identity of Scalia’s companions on the trip are also unknown to the public. News stories from the past few weeks indicate that Mr. Scalia had a long history of accepting such gifts, as do some (all?) of his colleagues on the Supreme Court.
By unhappy coincidence, it turns out that a public servant receiving gratuities from and engaging in surreptitious conversations with unknown parties is often a public servant on the take. Worse, the American public is ignorant. Most of us believe that if a behavior is indistinguishable from theft, or graft, or bribery in both appearance and outcome, well, then it must be theft, or graft, or bribery. As a result, most public officials are subject to a code of ethics. However, no such rules apply to the Supreme Court.
Fortunately, as Chief Justice Roberts pointed out, he and his colleagues are all “jurists of exceptional integrity.” That’s why they can take hundreds of free vacations without it influencing their behavior. They know it. Sadly, many of the rest of us don’t. So the problem lies with us, the American public.
Educating the proletariat to think correctly, unfortunately, is an almost impossible task. Otherwise, we wouldn’t need a class of people who are completely unaccountable to tell us what we can and cannot do. So if we cannot bring wisdom to the peasantry, how else can we ensure that the Scalias are afforded the deference they are due? One way to protect our betters is to remind them that the rest of us truly don’t get it. They need to know that we really are simple enough to confuse the appearance of impropriety with impropriety.
Unfortunately, it will take a code of ethics applying to the Supreme Court for the public to “get it.” And it turns out this isn’t a new idea. Every so often, (beginning in 1973!) someone in Congress introduces something called the Supreme Court Ethics Act. I can’t speak for the details of the bill, but conceptually, this is just the sort of thing that would protect the reputation of Scalia and his peers from gutter-sniping by the peons.
But that points to yet another way the public has failed our esteemed superiors: the Supreme Court Ethics Act never gets the votes it needs to protect the Guardians of the Constitution. But I sense an opportunity, a way for us, the ignorant non-members of the rarified Judiciary, to redeem ourselves for the offenses we caused to Scalia’s reputation. We can petition Congress to support the Act. More importantly, we can ask that the bill be renamed. Who, after all, could possibly oppose the Honorable Justice Antonin Scalia Ethics and Integrity Act?