Below is my column on Sunday in the Chicago Tribune on the controversy involving Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Ginsburg’s expression of “regret” over “ill-advised” statements may strike many as a bit short of an actual apology for what was facially unethical conduct. However, it was more than was required because nothing is required from a Supreme Court justice. That is the problem. Not the tirade against Trump. Not the criticism of Republicans in Congress. The real problem is that Ginsburg and her colleagues claim that the Code of Judicial Ethics is only binding on lesser jurists. Indeed, a majority of justices have been accused of ethical violations, but the Supreme Court is the only part of our government that is not subject to any enforceable code of ethics. Ginsburg’s apology should not detract attention from pressing need for reforms of our Court, including the creation of an enforceable ethical code for the justices. Once again, we have addressed only the latest manifestation of the problem on the Court rather than the underlying cause: the absence of an enforceable code of ethics for the justices. I have long advocated two primary reforms for the Court: the establishment of an enforceable code of ethics and the expansion of the Court to 19 members. What was disturbing recently during an appearance on the Washington Journal on C-Span was how many people argued against an enforceable code of ethics and just accepted that justices speak and act politically. While some people simply supported what Ginsburg had to say about Trump, others view the notion of an enforceable code of ethics as “naive” despite that fact that all other federal jurists comply with such a code. Below is the column:
I have long been a critic of the Supreme Court justices engaging in public appearances where they hold forth on contemporary issues and even pending matters before the Court. I have been particularly critical of the late Justice Antonin Scalia and Associated Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who clearly relished appearances before ideologically supportive groups. I have called this trend the “rise of the celebrity justice.” Now, Justice Ginsburg has started another firestorm over public comments where she joked that she would move to New Zealand if Donald Trump is elected. Canon 5 of the judicial ethical rules expressly states that judges shall not “make speeches for a political organization or candidate, or publicly endorse or oppose a candidate for public office.” The problem is that the Court has long maintained that ethical codes are not enforceable against its members as opposed to every other jurist in the country. This absurd position has continued because Congress has failed to act, something that I have previously criticized. Ginsburg’s statements this week reflects the continued sense of impunity enjoyed by justices who violate the core maxim that “no man shall be the judge of his own case.” The justices are the judges of their own ethical cases and they show vividly why that is a dangerous and corrupting power.
Judges often have to deal with hard cases, including some who literally have nothing to lose in disrupting a courtroom. Most judges will have such defendants removed, but Floyd County Superior Court Judge Bryant Durham in Rome, Georgia appeared to be intent on trying to out crazy the craziest guy in the room. In this case, the guy was Denver Allen and he unleashed a tirade at Durham who proceeded to join him in trashing talking. This led ultimately to Judge Durham daring Allen to masturbate in his courtroom. It should also lead to Durham’s discipline and likely removal for conduct that violates the basic tenets of judicial ethics.
By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor
In what can be seen as a prelude to future rights abuses by Turkish military and police forces engaged in countering the pro-Kurdish resistance fighters in the east, Turkey’s parliament passed laws granting immunity to its military engaged in “anti-terrorist” operations.
The government has become engaged in fighting since a cease-fire with the PKK broke down two years ago.
By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor
Ruling on statutory grounds, Skagit County, Washington Superior Court Judge Raquel Montoya-Lewis held that a public hospital offering maternity services to women must also offer abortion services. Referring patients to Planned Parenthood, the court ruled, violates state law regarding abortion services provided to patients. The suit was brought on behalf of a plaintiff patient by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The fundamental conflict in the case litigated was ostensibly due to the defendant hospital district’s position that while agreeing to offer such services, it experienced difficulty in complying due to lack of health professionals willing to perform abortions. State law does allow heath care professionals to decline to perform voluntary abortions for personal reasons.
For other public hospital districts, the ACLU served notice requesting similar compliance with state law.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit handed down a major tort ruling in throwing out the $1.8 million judgment awarded to former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura. Ventura alleged that he was defamed in the late author Chris Kyle’s bestselling book “American Sniper.” The court cited various errors at trial, including a faulty instruction on the actual malice standard for defamation and the misuse of unjust enrichment as a basis for the damages. The trial showed clear and frankly surprising errors by both Ventura’s counsel and the trial judge.
We have been discussing the rapid decline of civil liberties in Venezuela after the socialist takeover by Hugo Chavez and his successor, Nicolas Maduro. The denial of free speech and free press protections only increased as Chavez/Maduro destroyed one of the most productive economies in Latin America and turned it into an economic basket case. Now, the “red revolution” can take credit for reducing the judicial system to a virtual caricature of itself. The Venezuela’s Supreme Court ruled this week that the media cannot publish videos of lynchings because such true images would produce “anxiety and uncertainty” among citizens. The Maduro government has been trying to prevent citizens from seeing such images as it denies the social and economic meltdown in the country.