- Between 2004 and 2018, justices collectively disclosed taking 1,306 trips paid for by others, including 219 taken by liberal Justice Stephen Breyer, some of which were paid for by a wealthy Democratic donor family, according to Open Secrets.
- As Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham noted during the Tuesday Judiciary Committee hearing, the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg also donated a signed copy of her decision in the United States v. Virginia case— which ruled the Virginia Military Institute’s male-only admissions policy unconstitutional—to an auction the organization hosted to raise money.
- “Where was the outrage from the Left then? The current campaign is about intimidating the Court’s originalist majority, not ethics,” JCN President Carrie Severino told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
Democratic lawmakers now attacking Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas over supposed ethics violations have largely avoided calling out similar behavior from the high court’s liberal justices.
Following the ProPublica report on Clarence Thomas’ vacations, which were paid for by long-time friend and billionaire real estate developer Harlan Crow, Democrats urged him to resign and began calling for a new Supreme Court code of ethics. But, as some Republicans noted during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday, they have overlooked the political entanglements of liberal justices—including trips former Justice Stephen Breyer took that were funded by a Democrat donor, and the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s connection to a left-wing feminist group, among others.
Between 2004 and 2018, justices collectively disclosed taking 1,306 trips paid for by others, including 219 taken by Breyer, some of which were paid for by a wealthy Democratic donor family, according to Open Secrets.
Three of Breyers trips in 2018 were funded by the Chicago-based Pritzker family, which has donated millions of dollars to Democratic causes. Breyer, who serves on the Pritzker Prize for Architecture jury, took two of those trips as part of that role.
Republican Texas Senator Ted Cruz highlighted Breyer’s travel during Tuesday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Supreme Court ethics. (RELATED: ‘Pay The Price’: Dems Hear List Of Their Party’s Threats Against Conservative SCOTUS Justices At Ethics Hearing)
“In 2019, [Justice Breyer] traveled to New York City, to Vancouver and Paris,” Cruz said. “In 2018, Justice Breyer traveled to Ireland and Spain. In 2016, he traveled to New York, Spain and France. In 2013, he traveled to Norway, Sweden and Denmark. In 2012, he traveled to Beijing and to London — all of this paid for by the Pritzker Foundation.”
“I’m not suggesting that he is corrupt,” Cruz continued. “What I am suggesting is this committee is corrupt.”
While Breyer disclosed his trips, Thomas did not disclose trips taken with Crow, though Thomas said colleagues told him the trips were “not reportable,” because they were considered personal hospitality from a friend.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg likewise disclosed taking a trip funded by billionaire Israeli businessman Morris Kahn — one of 14 trips she took in 2018 — who had business before the court the previous year, according to Open Secrets.
She also had extensive ties to a women’s rights group with frequent business before the court, the National Organization for Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund (NOW LDEF).
Ginsburg spoke at an event hosted by the organization, its annual “Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Distinguished Lecture Series on Women and the Law,” just two weeks after taking the position advocated for by that group in its amicus brief, the Los Angeles Times reported in 2004.
Stephen Gillers, New York University law professor and legal ethics expert, said at the time that her decision to speak at the event was a “judgement call.”
“Some might say judges should lead monastic lives, but I don’t believe that,” he told the outlet. “I think judges and justices should participate in broad legal debates, but within restraints.”
As Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham noted during the Tuesday Judiciary Committee hearing, Ginsburg also donated a signed copy of her decision in the United States v. Virginia case— which ruled the Virginia Military Institute’s male-only admissions policy unconstitutional—to an auction the organization hosted to raise money.
JCN President Carrie Severino told the Daily Caller News Foundation that Ginsburg’s actions “expressly violates a judge’s ethical duty to refrain from political activity.”
“Justice Ginsburg’s signing the VMI opinion for the benefit of NOW’s PAC—which financially supports candidates running for office—expressly violates a judge’s ethical duty to refrain from political activity,” Severino said. “Where was the outrage from the left then? The current campaign is about intimidating the Supreme Court’s originalist majority, not ethics.”
Senator Graham pointed how Justice Ginsburg’s 1998 donation of her signed VMI decision that went on to be auctioned off at fundraiser for the National Organization for Women’s Legal Defense Fund received no outage.
And he asked witnesses how a hypothetical scenario of Justice… pic.twitter.com/IO2iFDxhYP
— Carrie Severino (@JCNSeverino) May 2, 2023
Graham asked Democratic witnesses at the Tuesday hearing what would have happened if Justice Samuel Alito signed a copy of the Dobbs decision and donated it to Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America. “All hell would break loose in this country,” he said.
In 2010, Ginsburg accepted an award from the Woman’s National Democratic Club. The Berggruen Institute also awarded her its $1 million prize for philosophy and culture, which she donated to charities and nonprofits.
Multiple justices have also left information off of financial disclosures and later had to update them, including six free or reimbursed trips Justice Sonia Sotomayor left off her 2016 report, and income Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s spouse “periodically receives from consulting on medical malpractice cases,” that she claimed on her nominee disclosure had been “inadvertently omitted” from previous reports.
Fix the Court (FTC), a Supreme Court watchdog that advocates for greater accountability in the federal courts, previously highlighted some of these instances, including Ginsburg’s remarks at a NOW event, and Sotomayor and Jackson’s failures to disclose information; the watchdog group also compiles lists of what it deems “ethical lapses” by all the justices. While it has frequently criticized Thomas’ acceptance of trips from Harlan Crow, it noted that some of the reports about conservative justices required “additional context.”
FTC wrote that the justices’ ties to universities highlighted by The New York Times’ and ABC News’ stories, for example, are “generally fine” but should require “more disclosure.” Additionally, FTC said it asked Politico for a correction on its April 25 story on Justice Gorsuch’s sale of a home he partially owned, which claimed he should have disclosed the buyer’s identity, because “filing instructions tell filers to leave that field blank if you lose money or break even,” though FTC does argue Congress should change this rule.
Republicans have in the past also proposed legislation to increase transparency regarding ethics. Republican Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy introduced the Supreme Court Transparency Act in 2021, which would create an internet database providing public access to disclosures required of the justices under federal law. Sen. Graham noted on Tuesday that he is not opposed to ideas about making the Supreme Court “more transparent,” but believes current attempts are designed to “destroy the legitimacy” of the conservative-majority Supreme Court.
“If you have any ideas or recommendations about how the court could be more transparent, count me in, that makes perfect sense to me,” Graham said. “But when you look at the history, the way things have happened with the court, when a liberal justice does something the reaction in the American media is completely different.”
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