Destroying court credibility

Judges are undermining their own claim to be neutral arbiters

Supreme Court building in New York.
(Image credit: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

After the 2020 election, Ginni Thomas was apoplectic. She spent weeks firing off texts and emails urging Donald Trump's chief of staff and state legislators to overturn the results, saying Trump's defeat would ensure "the end of America." When the messages were later made public, Thomas insisted she had not discussed her belief the election was stolen with her husband and "best friend," Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. That's convenient, since the justice never recused himself from cases involving Trump, the election, or Jan. 6. Last week, we learned that Justice Thomas failed to report that he and Ginni have been vacationing like billionaires for decades on the private jet, superyacht, and lakefront resort of conservative megadonor Harlan Crow. Crow assures us that while he showered expensive freebies on Thomas and a clubby group of movement conservatives that included Federalist Society head Leonard Leo, no one asked the justice "about a pending or lower court case."

In the wake of Roe's demise, several conservative justices have expressed great indignation that the court's "legitimacy" as a neutral arbiter was being questioned. Justice Samuel Alito said critics — who include Justice Elena Kagan — cross "an important line" in suggesting the justices' activist rulings are motivated by personal and religious beliefs. But where is that line, when a justice can secretly accept trips and gifts worth millions from a benefactor with a distinct agenda? Last week, a federal judge Trump appointed because of his anti-abortion, religious activism ruled that abortion drug mifepristone should be taken off the market in every state. His ruling reads like a pamphlet from a right-to-life group. In recent years, polls indicate, public confidence in the judicial branch has plunged to a record low. Only 40 percent of Americans approve of the Supreme Court itself, now widely seen as a third political branch of government. Legitimacy can be squandered.

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William Falk

William Falk is editor-in-chief of The Week, and has held that role since the magazine's first issue in 2001. He has previously been a reporter, columnist, and editor at the Gannett Westchester Newspapers and at Newsday, where he was part of two reporting teams that won Pulitzer Prizes.