December 31, 2004

Private: Supreme Court Justices Accept Substantial Gifts

The Seattle Times reports on the often substantial gifts which Supreme Court Justices receive. According to their report, Justice Thomas has received by far the most gifts, including a $1200 set of tires, a $15,000 bust of President Lincoln, and $19,000 Bible given to him by a major funder of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Justice Thomas is not alone, however, in receiving gifts. Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justices Stevens and Kennedy received honorary memberships in the Washington Golf and Country Club, which they valued last year at $4,000. Justice Ginsberg received $100,000 from a charitable foundation which she distributed to various law schools, women's organizations and theatrical companies, and Justice Scalia enjoyed a free ride on Air Force II while a case involving Vice-President Cheney was pending before the Court.
One ABA lawyer questions the propriety of accepting such gifts. "Why would someone do that - give a gift to Clarence Thomas? Unless they are family members or really close friends, the only reason to give gifts is to influence the judge," said Mark Harrison, a Phoenix lawyer who heads the ABA's Commission on the Model Code of Judicial Conduct. "And we think it is not helpful to have judges accepting gifts for no apparent reason."
But Professor John Yoo, a former Thomas clerk, defends the gift taking. "I don't see why it is inappropriate to get gifts from friends," said Yoo. "This reflects a bizarre effort to over-ethicize everyday life. If one of these people were to appear before the Supreme Court, Justice Thomas would recuse himself. So I don't see the problem."