Editorial: Fishy stench on our highest court

Column By John Young

I feel for you, Sam Alito.

Decades ago when dragging my skin-and-bones college freshman self back to the dorm at suppertime, if I smelled fish sticks wafting through the air, I immediately calculated the cost to escape to a pizza or burger place.

So I understand how a Supreme Court justice could feel the same way. What’s a poor justice to eat when he makes just $274,200 a year? Chicken of the Sea? Why not choose an exit route from that? Why not rely on kind strangers to upgrade that fish dish?

So let’s not scold Alito for enjoying the $1,000-a-day charm of Alaska’s King Salmon Lodge, which is a mere skip and jump from Washington in a $100,000-a-seat chartered jet, by which Alito and litigious billionaire Paul Singer came to be so close on the latter’s tab.

And poor, impoverished Clarence Thomas. It must be all grilled cheese at home – or would be if he didn’t have friends like Texas billionaire Harlan Crow proffering Neptune’s bounties on Crow’s luxury yacht.

Thomas’ mother eats better, too, in the house Crow bought right out from under the less-burdened justice, the same house where she lives rent-free.

To be honest, that’s not even the most interesting arrangement benefiting Justice Thomas. More so: the tens of thousands of hush-hush dollars that court-stacking Federalist Society co-chairman Leonard Leo funneled to Thomas’ wife Ginni for “consulting work.”

By the way, Mr. Leo is the man who set up Alito’s get-to-know-you-over-seafood jaunt to the Arctic.

Don’t know about you, but I smell fish sticks.

None of this would be known if not for the incredible reporting of ProPublica, which, unlike bought-and-sold members of our highest court, believes Americans have the right to know.

Reporting outrageous gifts like this to the public, says the federal Ethics in Government Act, is the justices’ responsibility, not that of intrepid news gatherers.

When the Supreme Court ruled that college athletes could rake in big bucks from sponsors, no one knew the extent to which select justices were already hawking their own jerseys to mega-wealthy sponsors like Crow and Singer.

The apparent or overt compromises smell to high heaven. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse observes that judges at all other levels adhere to codes of ethics.

“This is uniquely bad behavior confined to justices of the Supreme Court,” said the senator.

Not bothered? Try this hypothetical from acerbic commentator Jeff Tiedrich:

“If Ruth Bader Ginsburg had taken gifts from George Soros, Republicans would have burned Washington D.C. to the f-ing ground.”

We hear Republicans in the Senate say the questions about Thomas’ ethics are just a trifle, a continuation of the vendetta waged against him dating back to his confirmation.

Thomas was confirmed in 1991. So, GOP enablers: You’re saying Thomas’ critics were lying in the weeds for 32 years waiting for that one teensy weensy ethical slip-up that would get him?

Maybe the Crow matter is a trifle compared to the conflict of interest when Thomas refused to recuse on cases involving attempts to subvert the 2020 election – efforts his wife sought to fuel with traitorous, off-the-rails, conspiracy-drenched emails to Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows.

We are in the clutches of doctrine-driven right-wing jurists who were selected not to be impartial but to wear the jerseys of the partisans who paid for them.

The most egregious player is Leo, whose right-wing Federalist Society has become a de facto judiciary since Donald Trump rode into the White House with fewer votes than his rival.

Where do we go from here?

First, the Justice Department should investigate the failure of these justices to abide by the law.

Second, voters enraged by what this court has done to long-held freedoms should add to Democrats’ numbers in Congress and re-elect Joe Biden.

Third, Thomas should be impeached based on glaring conflicts of interest and failing to abide by the Ethics in Government Act.

Fourth, we should expand the court. The number nine is not set in stone. It’s Congress’ call. Democrats should commit to enlarging it, just as they should commit to ending the filibuster in the Senate.

Let’s see: The Electoral College allows a candidate without the most votes to win the presidency and sculpt the courts. Then a conservative bloc on the highest court bending to the wishes of a minority yanks away constitutional rights that have overwhelming public support.

We must curb the power of a very few over very many, particularly those few with superyachts for whom a right-wing court is the biggest catch.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

The opinions expressed in this editorial are those of the author.