The Supreme Court is one of the most important institutions in the U.S. As the highest court in the country, its decisions have the power to alter the lives of every American. Yet Americans do not elect these justices, have little say in the Supreme Court’s decisions and justices can serve a lifetime on good behavior — and rarely are they even restricted by that stipulation.
Take, for example, Clarence Thomas, who’s served on the Supreme Court for 32 years. His term has been longer than any other current justice, and he recently came under scrutiny following the release of his 2022 financial disclosure report on Aug. 9, which revealed that he’s been accepting private flights from Harlan Crow, a wealthy conservative donor.
Nov. 13, the Supreme Court adopted a code of ethics in response to ethical concerns, which it previously did not have, operating instead on “common law ethics.” The Supreme Court stated that it aimed to “dispel the misunderstanding” that justices “regard themselves as unrestricted by any ethics rules.”
This is not a misunderstanding. Less than half— 41%— of Americans approve of the Supreme Court’s performance. And how could they?
How are any American ideals represented by a group of people that Americans had little say in choosing, who are free to rule for life on “good behavior,” and who are not even expelled when they do misbehave? How are voters supposed to have confidence in a set of people who, until recently, were unbound by any formal ethics code? Who, when scrutinized, labels its own egregious violations of the “common law ethics” it claims to follow as a “misunderstanding?”
U.S. judges have a code of conduct. So does the Supreme Court of Ohio. As journalists, we too, have ethical codes. All of these outline restrictions on gifts. But a justice on the Supreme Court can accept a private flight, and when they come under fire for their flagrant disregard of the people they serve, it’s a “misunderstanding?”
It’s not that Americans misunderstand the Supreme Court. After the overturning of Roe v. Wade, a decision that 57% of Americans disapproved of, and striking down the student loan forgiveness plan that 47% of Americans supported, it seems as though the Supreme Court misunderstands Americans.
The Supreme Court is supposed to protect the freedoms of Americans and make certain that all branches of the government do not overextend their power. Unfortunately, it’s getting more and more difficult to trust it to do that when it fails to limit its own power and abide by the “common law” ethical codes it claimed to have followed.
Americans need more of a say in who serves on the Supreme Court. The justices need to be subjected to term limits. And the code of ethics must be enforced, not ignored. A limit of “good behavior” means nothing to a court that doesn’t know how to behave.
But what do I know? I’m probably just misunderstanding.
Lillian Barry is a senior studying journalism at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to share your thoughts? Let Lillian know by tweeting her at @lillianbarry_.