Justice For Sale

by on December 31, 2004

in Current Affairs,Politics

The Los Angelese Times published a story today proving that, contrary to popular belief, justice is not just not blind, but that it’s got 20/20 vision when checking out the balance on it’s own personal checkbook. Today Justice is officially for sale–and at the nation’s highest court, no less.

We discover this because under a federal ethics law, the justices of the Supreme Court were forced to reveal high-priced gifts they received. The greediest justices from 1998 to 2003 were, in order: Clarence Thomas ($42,200 in gifts); Sandra Day O’Connor ($5,825 in gifts, and an another $18,000 "award" that she listed as income); and Chief Justice William Rehnquist ($5,000, which was an "award" from Fordham University that, unlike O’Connor, he categorized as a gift). Those are the conservatives on the court, okay?

The liberals? Ruth Bader Ginsburg recieved a mammoth $100,000 from a foundation but gave it all to charity. Justices Breyer and Souter turned down all gifts.

Notice a contradiction here? Conservatives are the first people to jump up and down and scream and call people immoral and unethical but when it comes to themselves, it’s merely a "a bizarre effort to over-ethicize everyday life." That’s according to John Yoo, a former clerk of Justice Thomas. Yoo was both defending his former boss from the indefensible, and commenting on an ABA effort to tighten ethics rules so that judges couldn’t accept any expensive gifts.

Let’s apply to the ABA proposal a legal concept that will be familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of basic law: The Reasonable Person test. In light of the extracurricular income the conservative justices on the court are depositing in their bank accounts, would a reasonable person believe that tightening the ethics rules to prevent such gifts to be, well…reasonable?

Of course they would. Even lower court judges make a lot of money. Good for them; I’m all for making a lot of money but not at the expense of fairness in the legal system.

This story perfectly illustrates the values conservatives and liberals hold.

The conservative ethos is fundamentally and inherently self-centered. Their creed is built partly on individualist philosophies such as Libertarianism, especially the aspects of that philosophy that deal with the role of government and property ownership. Put simply, conservatives want to reduce the role of government as much as they can so that they can own more things.

Now, I have lots of things myself and I’m very fond of them. And there are lots more things that I want to get and once I get them, I’ll be very fond of those, too. I like stuff, I like getting stuff, and I like keeping stuff. So, I’m all for acquisitiveness, for what it’s worth. Call me old fashioned, but in my book, it’s not worth Justice.

Notice that the liberals on the court either declined gifts entirely or they gave their gifts to charity. That illustrates more differences between the two philosophies. Conservative philosophy causes Justices Thomas, O’Connor, and Rehnquist to favor their own enrichment over their official duty to impartiality (Duty: there’s another supposed "conservative" value), while the Liberal justices recognize the harm done to all of us by destroying their impartiality. Steeped in their individualist philosophies, conservatives are seemingly incapable of protecting those interests we all share–such as a system of justice that is blind.

But, hey: Expect more of the same. Bush believes he will have the opportunity to appoint at least two Supreme Court justices and his administration and the conservative Congress are doing everything they can to pack the lower courts with not merely conservative (lower case C), but extreme right-wing justices and judges.

At least I’ll know who to pay if I ever find myself before the Supreme Court.

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