Call Your Members of Congress · Ethics · Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS)

Support Elizabeth Warren’s Call to Create a Code of Ethics for Members of the Supreme Court

Note from Sarah Jane: I wrote and queued this post before Brett Kavanaugh was nominated to SCOTUS. Senator Warren’s call, and the bill drafted by Senators Blumenthal and Murphy are that much more needed now.

 

Support Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren’s call to create a code of ethics for sitting members of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS).

 

It might surprise you to learn this, but the nine judges who serve the Supreme Court are not bound by an explicit, formal code of ethics.

 

As with so many other things in a small-d democratic government, norms prevail. It is simply assumed that Supreme Court judges would conduct themselves impeccably, and would not do anything that would make them look partisan.

 

Well, guess what? Not all of them do, and the problem predates the Trump administration.

 

The late justice Antonin Scalia attended political retreats run by the notorious right-wing donor Charles Koch. He dined and hunted with then-Vice President Dick Cheney and declined to recuse himself from a SCOTUS case that involved him. He accepted more sponsored trips than any of his contemporaries on the court, and when he passed away in 2016, he was found dead in bed at a Texas hunting lodge owned by someone who had recently been involved in a potential SCOTUS case.

 

Warren complained after Neil Gorsuch, the man Trump appointed to Scalia’s seat after the GOP schemed to prevent hearings on President Obama’s choice, Merrick Garland, spoke at a September 2017 lunch at a Trump-branded hotel that was sponsored by the Fund for American Studies, a conservative group.

 

Without an ethics code in place to guide him, Gorsuch was free to say yes, but it would have been smarter for him to decline. It had ‘bad optics’ written all over it.

 

The fact remains, however–judges on lower courts are bound by ethical codes, but SCOTUS members are not. The example of Scalia, a smart man who stupidly dismissed claims of conflict of interest in the case involving Cheney by saying, “I do not believe my impartiality can reasonably be questioned,” and “If it is reasonable to think that a Supreme Court Justice can be bought so cheap, the Nation is in deeper trouble than I had imagined.”

 

You can be the most principled, ethical person who ever walked the earth and if you enjoyed the extracurriculars that Scalia did, it’d still look hinky. Because dammit, they look hinky. Why even go there?

 

With Trump stampeding norms like they’re houses of cards and Jenga stacks, it’s probably time to spell out, explicitly, what so many other past and current SCOTUS members understand without needing explainer documents. It’s time for a SCOTUS code of conduct.

 

Back in April 2017, Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, along with House Rep Louise Slaughter, introduced the Supreme Court Ethics Act of 2017. If passed, it would address the problem. The bill is S. 835 in the Senate and H.R. 1960 in the house.

 

Sample script for your MoCs: “Dear (House Rep/Senator Lastname,) I am (Firstname Lastname, of town, state). I am calling to ask you to support Senator Elizabeth Warren’s call to create a formal code of ethics for sitting members of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), and to ask you to support bills now in Congress that would create the code. Both bills are named the Supreme Court Ethics Act of 2017. In the Senate, the bill is S. 835, and in the house, it’s H.R. 1960.

We live in charged times, and Neil Gorsuch agreeing to speak to a conservative group at a Trump hotel property is the sort of thing he can do, but shouldn’t. His accepting the offer shows bad judgment on his part, and the last thing we want in a SCOTUS judge is bad judgment. Surprisingly, while members of lower courts are formally bound by a code of ethics, the nine who sit at SCOTUS are not. Given the off-duty adventures of the late Antonin Scalia and others, I think it’s time to support the creation of a set of binding guidelines that detail what SCOTUS members can and can’t do. It would improve the reputation of the court by giving it a means to show the public that it is fighting partisanship and the perception of partisanship. Thank you for listening.”

 

 

Read about Gorsuch’s speech, Senator Warren’s reaction, and calls to create an ethics code for sitting SCOTUS members:

http://thehill.com/regulation/court-battles/352920-gorsuch-speaks-at-trump-hotel-event-despite-criticism

http://thehill.com/homenews/senate/358163-warren-gorsuchs-links-to-koch-brothers-are-an-ethics-problem

https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/11/01/supreme-court-ethics-problem-elizabeth-warren-opinion-215772

 

 

Visit the website of Fix the Court, a nonpartisan advocacy group that calls for ethics rules for SCOTUS:

https://fixthecourt.com

 

 

Like Fix the Court on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/FixTheCourt/

 

 

Follow it on Twitter:

@FixTheCourt

 

 

Donate to Fix the Court:

https://fixthecourt.com/donate/

 

 

See the GovTrack entries on The Supreme Court Ethics Act of 2017, both the Senate and the house versions:

https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/115/hr1960

https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/115/s835

 

 

Read about the late Antonin Scalia’s adventures away from the court, and his refusal to recuse himself in the Cheney case. In particular, see the 2016 New York Times article that included a sidebar that showed how often the nine justices travel:

http://www.cnn.com/2004/LAW/03/18/scalia.recusal/

 

Postcard Campaigns · Russian Scandal, Emoluments Clause · Thank You Actions

Thank These Lawyers for Suing Trump

This OTYCD entry originally posted in January 2017.

Numerous ethics experts and lawyers warned that Donald Trump’s business entanglements would place him in violation of the Constitution the instant that he took office as president.

On Monday, January 23, the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) brought suit against the newly sworn-in president. Please send thank-you postcards to the team that is pursuing the case.

The New York Times story on the suit is below, and the addresses are below the link. Note this intriguing paragraph, which appears deep in the article:

“Mr. Eisen said the legal team intended to use the lawsuit to try to get a copy of Mr. Trump’s federal tax returns, which are needed to properly assess what income or other payments or loans Mr. Trump has received from foreign governments.”

So, this lawsuit might achieve another worthy goal, too–forcing Trump to release his tax returns, which his senior advisor Kellyanne Conway recently said he would not do, despite the fact that almost 600,000 people have signed a whitehouse.gov petition asking him to do so. (If you want to sign the petition, which closes on Feb 19, go here: https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/immediately-release-donald-trumps-full-tax-returns-all-information-needed-verify-emoluments-clause-compliance)

 

Please send thank-you postcards to:

 

Erwin Chemerinsky

Norman Eisen

Deepak Gupta

Richard W. Painter

Zephyr Teachout

Laurence H. Tribe

c/o Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW)

455 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Sixth Floor

Washington, DC 20001

 

 

 

 

Ethics · Read, Educate Yourself, Prepare · Russian Scandal, Emoluments Clause · Stand Up for Civilization · Stand Up for Norms

Follow Richard W. Painter and Norm Eisen on Twitter

This OTYCD entry originally posted in May 2017.

Follow Richard W. Painter and Norm Eisen on Twitter–two former White House ethics lawyers who have been explaining Trump’s violations in real time since the election.

Richard W. Painter was the chief White House ethics lawyer under George W. Bush from 2005 to 2007. Norm Eisen played the same role for Barack Obama from 2009 to 2011. Both are involved with Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a nonprofit founded in 2003. CREW is the entity that filed suit against Trump the first instant they could for contravening the emoluments clause of the Constitution.

Both men have spoken out, consistently and speedily, on the many and varied ethics violations accrued by Trump since November 8, 2016. Both have since become active on Twitter (Eisen already was; Painter brought himself up to speed).

Following their feeds will by turns outrage you and keep you sane, in that you will see professional ethicists confirm that what Trump just did was indeed wrong and worth being angry about.

Follow Richard W. Painter on Twitter:

@RWPUSA

Follow Norm Eisen on Twitter:

@NormEisen

And heck, follow CREW on Twitter too:

@CREWcrew

Action Alerts · Call Your Members of Congress · Ethics · Stand Up for Civilization · Stand Up for Norms

Call Your MoCs and Urge Them to Demand the Firing of EPA Head Scott Pruitt

Call your MoCs and urge them to demand the firing of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt.

 

We at OTYCD admit we are taking a chance with this. Pruitt could resign or be fired before this post goes live on Monday April 9. Heck, he could resign or be fired before we drop the post in the queue.

 

But! If Monday dawns and Pruitt is still running the EPA, we’ll be mad at ourselves for not having something ready to post. So, here we go.

 

Scott Pruitt is baseline terrible in the way that Trump requires of his cabinet members–he finds people who make it their mission to hate a government agency and appoints them to head the damned thing. Pruitt has been hell-bent on rolling back regulations that make sure our air and water is clean. Every good thing the EPA does, he’s against it and wants to stop it.

 

Trump also seems to pick people with an appetite for wasteful spending and ethical violations. Even in this rogue’s gallery, Pruitt stands out on both counts.

 

Celeste Pewter (who you should be following at @Celeste_Pewter) compiled and tweeted a list of his ever-accumulating offenses while at the EPA:

 

As of April 6, 2018, Pruitt…

 

Demanded 24/7 security

Installed a $25,000 soundproof phone system

Flew first class at a cost of more than $100,000

EPA explored hiring private jet service at cost of $100,000 a month

Stayed in townhouse owned by lobbyist for $50 a night

Ended up getting pushed out by lobbyist for overstaying–they changed the locks

Asked a subordinate to help him find housing; violates ethics rules [in doing so]

Used loopholes to help two subordinates get raises (and then denied it in interview)

Demoted critics who criticized his management, including those who questioned proposed expenses, like $70,000 in bulletproof furniture

Used security on personal trips including Disneyland + Super Bowl

Deliberately avoids record keeping (and is being sued over it)

 

 

Pruitt has to go.

 

Numerous Democratic members of Congress and at least three sitting House Republicans–Elise Stefanik of New York, and Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida–have called for his resignation.

 

On April 6, 2018, Trump reportedly called Pruitt on the carpet over all of this. He emerged with his job. Earlier in the week, Trump had affirmed his faith in Pruitt, saying he was “doing a great job” at the EPA.

 

Calling your members of Congress to demand Pruitt’s ouster emboldens them to do just that. Those who are thinking about it might choose to do it, and those who aren’t thinking about it will start thinking about it.

 

Sample script: “Dear [House Rep/Senator Lastname], I am [Firstname Lastname from town, zip code]. I am calling to ask you to call for the resignation of EPA head Scott Pruitt.  This is an ethics-challenged administration and Pruitt is the most ethics-challenged of the bunch, outside of Trump. He has wasted taxpayer dollars on things such as a soundproof booth. He took pricey flights when commercial flights would have met his needs. He entered ethically dubious arrangements such as staying at a lobbyist’s Washington, D.C., house for $50 per night. He misused EPA regulations to give raises to aides and then lied about it. And he dismissed EPA employees who questioned his actions. He has to go. Please go on record demanding his resignation. Thank you.”

 

 

Read about the three House Republicans who called for Pruitt’s resignation:

https://www.thedailybeast.com/third-republican-member-of-congress-calls-for-scott-pruitts-resignation

 

 

Read about Trump’s evident support for Pruitt, at least as of April 6, 2018:

http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/382063-trump-met-with-pruitt-amid-growing-calls-for-resignation

 

 

Subscribe to One Thing You Can Do by clicking the button on the upper right of the page. And tell your friends about the blog!

 

Call Your House Rep · House Bills, Federal · Stand Up for Civilization · Stand Up for Norms

Ask Your House Rep to Support H.R. 3876, the SWAMP FLIERS Act

Ask your House Rep to support H.R. 3876, the SWAMP FLIERS act, which would prohibit spending federal funds on private aircraft for any senior political appointee who’s traveling for official government business.

California House Rep Ted Lieu introduced the bill in September 2017 after Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned for spending more than $1 million in taxpayer money on private aircraft travel while doing business for the government.

Private jets, military helicopters, and the like are expensive to run–far, far more expensive than commercial flights. While there are situations where private and military  aircraft is the only option available to get the job done, those situations are rare. According to CNN, two secretaries of the interior who served the Obama administration spent $971,000 on non-commercial travel over the course of seven years.

Secretaries of the interior probably have greater need for private and/or military travel options than other cabinet secretaries. The job can require them to go to the off-roadiest of off-road spots–places that American Airlines can’t reach.

Current Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke has been less strict with our money than his immediate predecessors. He racked up more than $72,000 in noncommercial travel expenses between March and October 2017. The departure of Price doesn’t appear to have chastened Zinke. As of early October, the inspector general of the department of the interior had opened an investigation into Zinke’s questionable trips.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin triggered a department-level investigation after an Instagram post by his wife raised concern. Between March and October, Mnuchin took seven trips at taxpayers’ expense, at a cost of more than $800,000. The seven were found to be legal, but investigators dinged Mnuchin for the tenuous justifications that he offered for them. It also came out that Mnuchin had requested the use of a military plane for his honeymoon. (Officials turned him down.)

EPA head Scott Pruitt is yet another Trump cabinet member who has taken non-commercial flights in 2017. He took at least four trips between February and September at a cost of $58,000. The department did provide documents that showed that its Office of General Counsel had authorized the travel. In August, the EPA’s Office of the Inspector General announced it would look into Pruitt’s trips to his home state of Oklahoma.

We shouldn’t have to pass a law that stops senior administration appointees from choosing private and military flights when less expensive commercial options are available, but the actions of Price, Zinke, Mnuchin, and Pruitt shows that we do. Lieu’s bill would codify what should be common sense, and what was common sense before Trump was elected.

Lieu’s bill, dubbed the Stop Waste and Misuse by Presidential Flyers Landing Yet Evading Rules and Standards (SWAMP FLIERS), would require affected officials to provide proof that no commercial flight options were available. The bill has a low chance of passage. Since its introduction on September 28, 2017, it hasn’t moved along, and GovTrack’s page cites a Skopos Labs estimate that it has a two percent chance of passage.

But given the nonsense that those three former and current cabinet members got up to in 2017, it seems like a good idea to support this bill.

Sample script: “Dear House Rep (Lastname), I am (Firstname Lastname from town, zip code). I’d like you to support H.R. 3876, the SWAMP FLIERS Act. It was introduced by California House Rep Ted Lieu in September 2017, and it would outlaw using federal funds for official travel by senior political appointees on private aircraft and for other purposes.

 

See the GovTrack page on H.R. 3876:

https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/115/hr3876

 

Read Rep. Lieu’s September 28, 2017 statement about the bill:

https://lieu.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/rep-lieu-statement-introduction-swamp-flyers-act

 

Read a story from The Hill about the introduction of H.R. 3876:

http://thehill.com/blogs/floor-action/house/352913-democrats-unveil-bills-to-ban-cabinet-members-private-jet-travel

 

Read about Price’s resignation and the scandal that led to it:

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/09/tom-price-resigned/541608/

https://www.politico.com/story/2017/09/29/price-has-resigned-as-health-and-human-services-secretary-243315

 

Read the CNN story on the tab for non-commercial travel for interior secretaries under Obama, which includes the 2017 figures for Zinke’s private travel:

http://www.cnn.com/2017/10/09/politics/obama-interior-secretaries-air-travel-cost/index.html

 

Read about Zinke’s problematic travels, which have led to an investigation:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/federal-watchdog-opens-probe-into-travel-by-interior-secretary-ryan-zinke/2017/10/02/3f24fbf8-a7ad-11e7-92d1-58c702d2d975_story.html?utm_term=.3ec542cb3ed0

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/watchdog-says-interior-secretary-ryan-zinke-failed-to-properly-document-travel/2017/11/16/3277bac6-ca3f-11e7-b0cf-7689a9f2d84e_story.html?utm_term=.5fc4165735ab

https://www.politico.com/story/2017/11/16/ryan-zinke-wife-travel-investigation-167054

http://www.cnn.com/2017/11/17/politics/ryan-zinke-travel-investigation/index.html

 

Read about Steve Mnuchin’s non-commercial 2017 travel, which prompted an internal investigation that deemed the trips legal:

Read about the trips that Pruitt took in 2017:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2017/09/27/epas-pruitt-took-charter-military-flights-that-cost-taxpayers-more-than-58000/?hpid=hp_rhp-more-top-stories_pruitttravels-730pm:homepage/story&utm_term=.d8d5392003ba

Read, Educate Yourself, Prepare · Russian Scandal, Emoluments Clause

Learn Why Trump Is Impeachable Now

This OTYCD entry originally posted in January 2017.

Read the Brookings Institution report on Trump and the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution.

Ethicists Norman Eisen and Richard Painter, along with Harvard University Constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe, released a comprehensive report in December titled The Emoluments Clause: Its Text, Meaning, and Application to Donald J. Trump.

The clause appears in Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution, and bars any “Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under [the United States]” from taking “any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State” without a direct and clear OK from Congress. The clause stops the president and other high-ranking officials from taking bribes and other pricey gifts from foreign entities.

The Brookings report dismantles Trump’s claim that a sitting president cannot have a conflict of interest. It also details the background of the Emoluments clause; explains what an emolument is; and makes clear that the clause applies to the president.

The upshot? The authors flat-out say, “Mr. Trump, as President-Elect, appears to be on a direct collision course with the Emoluments clause.”

Under the section titled Remedies for Emolument Clause Violations, the authors state: “If Mr. Trump enters office in what would obviously constitute a knowing and indeed intentional violation of the Emoluments Clause and then declines to cure that violation during his tenure, Congress would be well within its rights to impeach him for engaging in ‘high crimes and misdemeanors.'”

 

Here is a link to the Brookings Institution report:

https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/gs_121616_emoluments-clause1.pdf

 

Here are just a few articles that reveal dealings and behaviors that might place Trump in violation of the Constitution:

 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trumps-presidency-overseas-business-deals-and-relations-with-foreign-governments-could-all-become-intertwined/2016/11/25/d2bc83f8-b0e2-11e6-8616-52b15787add0_story.html?utm_term=.982f402fbd93

 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/business/wp/2016/11/30/trump-announces-he-will-leave-business-in-total-leaving-open-how-he-will-avoid-conflicts-of-interest/?utm_term=.ebc7a85c1e60

 

This article talks about how Trump’s web of business deals isn’t just a huge, roiling snarl of conflicts of interest–it might threaten national security, too:

http://www.newsweek.com/2016/09/23/donald-trump-foreign-business-deals-national-security-498081.html

 

And here are some articles that discuss how violating the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution puts Trump at risk of impeachment:

 

http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/donald-trump-start-violating-constitution-sworn/story?id=44056726

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/donald-trump-violate-constitution-george-bush-ethics-lawyer-diplomats-trump-washington-dc-hotel-a7428406.html

 

Since the Brookings Report came out, Trump announced his plans to deal with his conflicts of interest. This New York Times article recounts their failings:

 

Also see Wednesday’s OTYCD post in support of Walter Shaub, director of the Office of Government Ethics:

https://wordpress.com/post/onethingyoucando.com/1343

 

And see Thursday’s OTYCD post on supporting the Presidential Conflicts of Interest Act:

https://wordpress.com/post/onethingyoucando.com/1207

 

 

 

Action Alerts · Ethics · Russian Scandal, Emoluments Clause · Stand Up for Civilization · Stand Up for Norms

Tell Congress to Tell Trump to Fully Comply With The Emoluments Clause

This OTYCD entry originally posted in June 2017.

Tell your House Rep that you want Trump to comply with the Constitution by fully and properly tracking the payments that his businesses receive from foreign governments.

 

A previous OTYCD post noted how Trump was in violation of the Constitution the day he took office, because of the Emoluments clause, which states that the president cannot receive gifts or payments from foreign governments. Having hotels and resorts all over the world–Washington D.C. included–with his name on them complicates the matter significantly.

 

In order to have a hope of complying, Trump has to track all the payments his many and varied business entities receive. Initially, his organization promised that it would donate all the profits it earned from foreign governments to the U.S. Treasury.

 

Well, on May 24, the Trump organization said it was not going to do the full due diligence required to be in compliance with the Emoluments clause, evidently because it’s just too damn hard. In an eight-page pamphlet it sent to the House Oversight Committee, it stated:

“To fully and completely identify all patronage at our Properties by customer type is impractical in the service industry and putting forth a policy that requires all guests to identify themselves would impede upon personal privacy and diminish the guest experience of our brand.”

 

Elijah Cummings, minority leader of the house committee, shot back with deserved anger, saying the pamphlet “raised grave concerns about the president’s refusal to comply with the Constitution.”

 

We at OTYCD are asking you to back Cummings up by calling your house reps and demanding that the Trump organization do everything it can to get right with the Constitution, even if it’s wildly inconvenient. The sanctity of the Constitution is more important than the “guest experience” at Trump’s properties.

 

If your house rep IS Elijah Cummings, call him to thank him for doing the right thing.

 

Otherwise, riff off of this sample script:

“Dear House Rep (Lastname), I am (Firstname Lastname, from town, zip code), and I am calling to ask you to demand that the Trump organization do everything it can to prove that its business entities are in compliance with the Emoluments clause of the Constitution. In late May, the organization said it would not do the work involved in confirming that its entities were respecting the Constitution because doing so might affect the quality of the “guest experience” at Trump hotels and resorts. Well, maybe Trump should have thought that through before he ran for president. The Constitution is priceless. The guest experience at Trump properties is not. If his guests have to suffer a little to ensure that the Constitution receives due respect, that’s a small price to pay, and Trump can eat it.”

 

 

Subscribe to One Thing You Can Do by clicking the button on the upper right of the page. And tell your friends about the blog!

 

 

Read about the Trump organization’s refusal to fully comply with the standards required by the Constitution:

https://www.theatlantic.com/amp/article/527997/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn/wp/2017/05/24/trump-shows-he-wasnt-serious-about-shunning-emoluments/?utm_term=.b22e01bd7440

http://www.nbcnews.com/politics/white-house/trump-failing-track-foreign-cash-his-hotels-n764061

 

 

Read the eight-page pamphlet that team Trump prepared for the House Oversight Committee:

https://democrats-oversight.house.gov/sites/democrats.oversight.house.gov/files/documents/Trump%20Org%20Pamphlet%20on%20Foreign%20Profits.pdf

 

 

Read Elijah Cummings’s rejoinder:

https://democrats-oversight.house.gov/sites/democrats.oversight.house.gov/files/documents/2017-05-24.EEC%20to%20Trump%20Organization.pdf