The Washington Posteditorial board crafted a pathway Congress can follow in dealing with the U.S. Supreme Court's ethics problems.
Writing over the weekend, the board explained that if Justice Clarence Thomas doesn't intend to amend his disclosure forms that were found to have left out several gifts from Republican megadonor Harlan Crow, they suggested some actions.
"Lawmakers should probe, firstly, what happened in the Crow matter," the piece began. What else might Justice Thomas have accepted from Mr. Crow? What was the nature of Mr. Crow’s relationship with Justice Thomas, and how did it develop? This could require testimony from Mr. Crow himself, particularly if Justice Thomas fails to revise his disclosure forms."
Crow was caught handing over several gifts to Thomas, according to reports from ProPublica and The Washington Post. Not only did he get private jet travel and time cruising around Indonesia on a private yacht, but a child Thomas was raising as his own was also handed free private school tuition. Crow also bought Thomas' mother's home and renovated it while she was still living there. There's also the matter of Justice Thomas' wife, who was given hefty sums of money for her business which advocates for right-wing causes.
"The unattractive flow of secret money [Leonard] Leo apparently directed raises questions about when justices should be expected to recuse themselves because of their spouses’ financial arrangements — and about whether the existing disclosure rules, which don’t mandate revealing underlying sources of income, are adequate," the piece continued. "The Leo-directed payments went to Ms. Thomas’s firm, Liberty Consulting, but only through a polling company owned by Kellyanne Conway that was, in turn, working for a Leo-affiliated group, the Judicial Education Project."
Thomas isn't the only one with ethical concerns. There have been questions about Justice Neil Gorsuch and problems around who paid off Justice Brett Kavanaugh's massive debt before he took a job on the bench.
"It would be useful — and legitimate — for lawmakers to hear from Judicial Conference representatives about how justices’ disclosures are scrutinized, and what guidance was in place before a recent clarification about the need to report private jet travel," The Post explained.
The board argued that Congress has a right to ask questions and impose transparency, recusal, and enforce other rules to the justices.
"That prospect, even if seemingly remote right now, should jolt the court into action. The justices owe the public the sort of transparency and ethical adherence that virtually every other part of the government follows — and that, by the way, lower courts observe, too," the board closed. "They should show they will right their ethical ship before lawmakers try to fix it from the outside."