Within the first year of my husband’s employment in the Federal District Courts, his job was threatened if I ever wrote another letter or another opinion column for a newspaper. The rules were absolute – no member of the United States Judiciary, judge or support staff, or any member of his/her immediate family could engage in any political activity of any kind. For thirty years, I was expected to keep my mouth shut. Anything I wanted to do, from being an advocate for day care homes to writing letters to newspapers to joining an on-line John Kerry group, was done under my maiden name. It became such a habit, I still do it. The first election cycle after he retired, our lawn was filled with candidates’ signs. In fact, because I live on a street that divides two state legislative districts on the center line, I get to put up two different House candidate signs.
I disagreed with Chief Justice William Rehnquist on just about everything. My all time favorite Supreme was the late William O. Douglas, who could out-cowboy John Wayne and was 68 when he married his fourth wife, the 22-year-old Cathleen Heffernan. Rehnquist was not only a conservative, he was bland by comparison with so many of the justices I’d grown up with. But on two scores, I respected Rehnquist very much. He was absolute about ethics. He was not so great on employee rights, having once made a Jewish law clerk join the annual Christmas caroling, but the man was dedicated to the ethics of the Court and to the Courts themselves. That was the second thing I respected about him. When President Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich shut down the rest of the government, Rehnquist managed to keep our courts open. It took some incredible shifting of funds to meet the entire court systems’ payroll, but he did it.
When Rehnquist died during the Bush 43 term, I knew we would end up with the same balance in the Court because Bush would replace the conservative Rehnquist with an equally conservative somebody. Instead, we got John Roberts, who has been called the best friend business has ever had on the Court. And we lost the assumption of what’s good for the goose being good for the ganders. The Supremes were not longer expected to abide by the same ethics rules as the rest of the court system.
That is how we have ended up with Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito and the tag team of Clarence and Ginny Thomas running around with political groups, speaking to PACs and working for the Tea Party.
The embedded clip from Countdown with Keith Olbermann relates to the ethics problems of our Supreme Court and gives a candle’s worth of hope that something might be done to restore the honor of our Supreme Court before it is tainted irreparably.