During the last two years, our Supreme Court has heard many cases. With our Supreme Court Justices becoming more and more public and engaged in the political process, we should feel alarmed at the way Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas are becoming celebrity Justices. Both men’s political leanings have been voiced at a time when we need to have justices of the highest court of the land who are devoid of political influences.
On Monday, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia traveled to the Capitol to teach a class about the Constitution to members of Congress, led by controversial Tea Party caucus chairwoman Michele Bachmann. Justice Scalia’s participation in Bachmann’s Constitution school has prompted a heated debate about the proper relationship between Supreme Court justices and political leaders. But the real debate that should be raging is not about judicial ethics, but about the dubious vision of the Constitution that Scalia and leaders of the Tea Party will be discussing.
As Jonathan Turley pointed out in the Washington Post this weekend, while Supreme Court Justices across the ideological spectrum have taken on increasingly prominent public roles, Scalia has become a true “celebrity justice.” But Scalia’s pugnacious celebrity is in service of a distorted and bizarre reinterpretation of the Constitution championed by the Tea Party movement.
There is nothing wrong with teaching a class, but for him to teach one at the invitation of such a controversial politician as Michele Bachmann makes me shudder. I totally believe Representative Bachmann has a right to say whatever she pleases. The Constitution gives her that right. Watching her argue for the sake of TV time without caring about the validity of her statements can be a comical way to pass the time for many. But to know that a Supreme Court Justice is giving her serious face time sounds extremely dangerous to those of us who want a Justice who is not persuaded by the ideology that comes with Bachmann’s fame-seeking.
Let’s review the role of the Supreme Court and what the Constitution say about it.
The United States Supreme Court adjudicates on acts passed through the political system by Congress and President. The Supreme Court’s task is to declare whether an act is constitutional or unconstitutional. The Supreme Court cannot initiate a bill/act—it can only adjudicate.
The Constitution is very clear about the position of the Supreme Court as stated in Article III:
“The judicial power of the United States shall be vested in one Supreme Court and in such inferior courts that the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.
“The judicial power shall extend to all cases, in law and equity, arising under the Constitution, the laws of the United States and Treaties.”
As often as we hear about the intent of the Founding Fathers, we rarely hear an emphasis on how important it was that the Founding Fathers wanted to steer clear of outside influences. Our country’s Constitution was drafted by imperfect men who once lived under an oppressive monarchy, although they practiced oppression themselves by owning slaves. The Constitution set up a court to be fair and balanced in administering the laws of the land. With a balanced scale of justice as the focal point, the Constitution has been amended 27 times.
Justice Scalia is beginning to show very little restraint in his partiality, and does not even try to fake fairness anymore. His ranting commentaries remind me of an old man stuck on a toilet. But he is not the only oddball in a black judicial robe. Remember Justice Clarence Thomas? Clarence Thomas is not new to controversy. He came to the bench with flames surrounding his appointment to the highest court of the land. His wife, Virginia Lamp, and his defense of her are causing him another round of side eyes.
Virginia Lamp, who has been a lobbyist and congressional aide, has been very active in politics. She is a consultant to the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, and founder and president of Liberty Central, an advocacy group associated with the Tea Party movement. In January 2011, Common Cause reported that between 2003 and 2007 Clarence Thomas failed to disclose $686,589 in income earned by his wife from the Heritage Foundation, instead reporting “none” where “spousal non-investment income” would be reported on his Supreme Court financial disclosure forms. Thomas acknowledged in filings shortly thereafter that he erred by not disclosing his wife’s past employment as required by federal law. What? How do you make that mistake for four years? Hmm.
If that was not enough, last year, Miss Virginia played the role of a big bad wolf and called up Anita Hill (yeah…that Anita Hill) and left her a voice mail message at her job demanding that Ms. Hill apologize for causing her husband grief all those years ago. What? Mayhem and foolishness at every turn! This is no way for a Supreme Court Justice’s wife to behave. Justice Thomas has defended his wife’s actions and stated her political views do not interfere with his work on the Supreme Court. Really? Would you want to try a case before the Supreme Court that might involve opposing political views or a nasty divorce case before Justices who have lives resembling the Real Housewives of Atlanta?
As we see Justices becoming more and more accustomed to the limelight and being treated like celebrities, we have to pause and think if this is wise for our country. Scalia and Thomas have reportedly attended events funded by conservative billionaires David and Charles Koch. Both justices were featured in Koch promotional material with Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. At one time, our Justices avoided anything that could be viewed as conservative or liberal stimuli in their lives away from the bench. I am longing for the days of not knowing Justices’ views until they are given in a legal decision and the lives of the Justices not resembling reality TV auditions.