Alito: It’s Fine The Court Is So Unpopular

225px-010_alitoI have long criticized the increasing public appearances of Supreme Court justices who appear to be maintaining a type of popular base of supporters on the left and the right. It is the age of the celebrity justice. Scalia and Sotomayor were in the news this week attracting headlines with commentary on cases or political issues. However, it was the comment of Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. yesterday that was the most striking. Alito dismissed new polls showing that the Court was at a near record low in respect and approval at some 43 percent. Alito said that it did not bother him at all, which (judging from his past conduct) should not come as much of a surprise.

Clearly the Court should not be striving for popularity. Indeed, lifetime tenure is designed to insulate members of the Court from such popular demands or expectations. However, justices (including Alito) are increasingly seen pandering to outside groups from their ideological camps. Indeed, Alito was widely criticized for attending a conservative fundraiser. Moreover Alito was unrepentant in his unprofessional appearance at a State of the Union address. Then there is the open arrogance shown by some of his colleagues in their public events. That type of conduct clearly undetermined the respect for the Court and should not be dismissed by any member.

I have previously criticized Chief Justice Roberts for repeatedly failing to take the difficult step of chastising the conduct of his colleagues. Indeed, Roberts seemed to support Alito in openly disagreeing with President Obama at the State of the Union.

When asked about the near record disrespect for the Court at the Forum Club of the Palm Beaches and the Palm Beach County Bar Association, he simply replied

“It’s fine if we are not all that popular. There is a reason why the Constitution gives federal judges life tenure. We are supposed to do our jobs without worrying whether our decisions are pleasing to anybody.”

Yes, but their job also should include judicial ethics. Lower court judges routinely refuse to speak at ideological events or discuss issues that are or will be before their courts (and here). The Justices not only violate this core principle of ethics but they insist that they are above the rule of judicial conduct governing other federal judges. Indeed, when they leave the court and sit on lower courts, former justices seem to have a hard time adhering to ethical rules.

As noted in an earlier column, the increasing high-visibility appearances of justices is in stark contrast to their use of the Ginsburg rule to avoid discussing issues at their confirmation hearings. Indeed, Justice Thomas refuses to speak even in oral arguments but regularly appears before conservative groups to throw red meat to his base just as Justice Ginsburg herself has done with liberal groups.

There is a good reason why the Supreme Court is unpopular and it is not entirely due to their rulings. The justices themselves are undermining the integrity and respect for the Court. It is not surprising to see members dismiss the view of the public given their dismissive attitude toward principles of judicial ethics.

35 thoughts on “Alito: It’s Fine The Court Is So Unpopular”

  1. The real reason we can’t have the Ten Commandments in a courthouse: You cannot post “Thou shalt not steal,” “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” and “Thou shalt not lie” in a building full of lawyers, judges, and Politicians. It creates a hostile work environment.

    from a fb post

  2. At the end of the day, all the Supreme Court has is moral authority. They have no budgetary powers, no police powers. If the general attitude becomes the one that was once expressed by President Jackson (the court has issued its ruling, let’s seem them carry it out), then the Supreme Court will become more or less irrelevant.

    Alito should care very much whether or not his court is respected by the citizenry.

  3. The court reflects the general descent into corruption as the acceptable norm in the political sphere. Money for speeches is nothing more than bribery and corruption is the result. The views of the public in polls show the radical disconnect between the wishes of citizens and government policy. Government has become parody and deception is its modus operandi.

  4. “Alito said that it did not bother him at all, which (judging from his past conduct) should not come as much of a surprise.”


    That’s a hell of an attitude from an official in a democracy. But nobody should be surprised by this State of the Union “no-no” guy.

    “Stupidity combined with arrogance and a huge ego will get you a long way.”
    ~Chris Lowe

  5. Wayne;

    As an advocate (much) against tyranny, cronyism and corruption; I’ve noticed several issues axiomatic.

    1 – Bad faith is much less brazen and flagrant when they KNOW they are being watched.

    2 – Parties engaging in manifest injustice are much more shrewd when they KNOW they are being watched.

    3 – Though judge’s swear an oath to adjudicate upon the merits equally to rich and poor alike; such is basically hog wash.

    4 – There’s almost NEVER any punishment for Civil Rights violations via “Color of Law” issues.

    5 – You’ll not find a single, solitary case of prosecution of 11 U.S.C. 155 Scheme to Fix Fees (even though Janet Reno Reform Act of 1994 made such a top priority).

    6 – People (insignificant one’s such as I) fight corruption by efforts to get qualitative attention to the matters (such as Prof. Turley, NYT etc., etc.)

    7 – The reason victims (such as Gov. Siegelman, Legal Schnauzer and Ted Stevens) seek qualitative attention – is to reach the quantitative.

    8 – Qualitative to quantitative pursuits are for the sake of compelling action.

    9 – NYT, WSJ, Hartford Currant are no longer true journalists trustworthy

    10 – Even when we succeed (as we did in Cameron Todd Willingham, Troy Davis, Richard Fine, James Traficant, Richard Convertino, Trayvon Martin and homeless Kelly Thomas) – in getting quality reporting that motivates the masses to cry foul

    The resulting action is vexing!

    Cameron put to death,
    Richard Fine freed and judge resigned; but he still has no Bar card,
    James Traficant gave up
    Richard Convertino boxed into a corner permanent
    Trayvon Martin case makes me weep
    Kelly Thomas (where jury said Not Guilty to unnecessary force) makes me weep MORE
    Troy Davis had guy confess, FBI Director Louis Freeh, the POPE, President Jimmy Carter, plus 600,000 others of U.S. sign petition to commute death penalty – and he was still put to death.

    Most judges get to be judges;
    because they are THE BEST – artful dodgers

    and there will NEVER be cameras in our courts all the time;
    unless that is to see verdicts/rulings only!

  6. Yeah, good luck with impeaching a Judge “SJE”

    we even have one in our eToys case who is openly breaking the law – one count upon another – saying she doesn’t want to hear about fraud on the court; because she has to get back to Tweeter (I kid you not = actual transcript 2012 concerning Romney/Bain in eToys case 01-706 DE Bankr)

    Our nation has taken power mad personas to a whole new level!

    1. Impeachment cannot happen in today’s political climate. To digress a little: I am very concerned about our Republic and at times get very discouraged when I see the concept of checks and balances and compromise being abused to the point of not having a functioning government. Wish I had a solution, but that will take someone a lot smarter than me.

  7. Justice Alito is the Third Circuit Judge that realm was happy to see go to the Supreme Court and advance the protectionism machinations thereof.

    Roberts is from the State where the Gov and AG advocated for the Gov of Wisc to go black ops on the lawful assembly. He’s a member of the Federalists Society and Solicitor General’s office that advocates GWB’s policies (having gone down to FL and advising brother Jeb on the way to do a “recount” correctly – Thus GWB rewarded his [c]lan).

    This is more like it Professor Turley;
    taking umbrage with the right issues nationally significant and important.

    Clean up the top down;
    and then worry about the (purported) bottom.

  8. Justices Roberts and Alito actually miss the point. The disatisfication with the court does not spring just from disagreement with their rulings but from a real disappointment in the quality of the analysis in their opinions as well as the decision by some justices to appear in public in a manner that brings the court into disrepute. For example, making a speech about open government and free speech to a closed meeting and insisting that a journalist’s recording of the meeting be destroyed or failing to follow the rules about financial disclosures time and time and time and time again. But then just as the law does not matter to the Supreme Corporate Court neither do facts.

  9. I sympathize w/ the way it “used to be.” indeed, I commented on the snake oil barrister ad this morning how I wish we could back to the no ads by attorneys. However, things change and we must adapt. Cameras in the SOTU are coming. My guess is by 2020.

    1. I would love to see cameras inside the Courtroom. It would reduce the mystery of that branch of government and make things a lot more open to the general public. We would be able to see them “in action” so to speak; however, this might expose the Court to even more criticism when people see what goes on.

  10. As a youngster, I’m now 69, I had the highest regard for the Supreme Court as it was felt they were beyond politics. Somehow in an objective manner decisions would be reached based upon our Constitution.

    Today, I have the same amount of respect for the Court as I do Congress—which isn’t much. They are all political animals and I feel some of the Justices know their decisions before reading one brief or listening to any oral arguments.

    I am a retired scientist (Chemist) and not a legal scholar; however, it is felt that Justice Scalia is the antithesis of what a Supreme Court Justice should be. He appears to be so blatant in his political views that his legal opinions are tainted by the tarnish of the political quagmire currently seen in our dysfunctional government.

    Their confirmation hearings are theater, and forgive me for being crass, but the hearings are for the most part a joke.

  11. There is absolutely no reason that Supreme Court Justices should not be subject to judicial ethics. In fairness, I believe the so-called Ginsburg rule was a reaction to the highly politicized and unfair questioning that the judicial candidates were subjected to.

  12. I didn’t know that it was okay to lobby a federal employee…. Now if they are doing the job appointed to they should expect some criticism…. But with approvals this low they have 50% of the population plus or minus 3 percent….that are unhappy…. I’d look at why….. Maybe Roosevelt’s actions to pack the court should be considered…..

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