From The Ethics Alarms Archives: “Age and the Judge,” And A Current Day Example.

The discussions regarding Joe Biden’s age-related decline reminded me of a post that had been languishing on the runway since mid February. It was prompted by a tip from Neil Doer (I think it was Neil) who pointed me to this article about  a well-respected federal judge in Brooklyn, Jack B. Weinstein who was retiring after more than a half-century on the bench. He’s 98 years old, and it seems like he’s been an outstanding judge. My position was and is, however, that it is unethical for a judge, and indeed any professional, to continue in a position of responsibility at such an advanced age.

Obviously, I would apply that principle to politicians and leaders as well. This is another area where professional sports, especially baseball, provides useful case studies that can be instructive. Players who were great at 25 are also better when they are 40 than the more average players, whose natural decline as the result of aging will usually cause them not be able to perform  at an acceptable standard by late middle age. The great player often will still be good, but almost no player (almost) will be as excellent in his late 30s and early 40s as he was in his prime. As the financial benefits and other perks of playing major league baseball have increased over time, fewer aging greats are willing to go gentle into the good night of retirement. Their last years are often sub-par, certainly for them, or worse, but they will not voluntarily retire. Check the records of Miguel Cabrera, Pete Rose, Willy Mays, and Mickey Mantle, to name just a few.

Famously brilliant and contrary judge Richard Posner took the unpopular position among his colleagues that federal judges ought to have a mandatory retirement age. He recommended 80, but in his own case, when everyone expected him to stay until the bitter end, he retired at 78, because, he said, it was time. I’m not convinced that 80 isn’t still too old, but at least it’s a limit.

I remember well my one meeting with Antonin Scalia at a bar function not long after he had joined the Supreme Court.  He was relaxed and jovial, and when I asked him how long he thought he’d stay on the Court, he laughed and said that he couldn’t imagine staying until they “carried him out,” like so many other justices. He said it was important to leave the bench “while you still have most of your marbles.,” and to him, this meant before 80. He said he would stay about ten years.

Antonin Scalia died while still on the Court, in his 20th year of service, just short of his 80th birthday.

Here, from 2009, is “Age and the Judge.”

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The Terrifying And Unethical Dissent Of Judge Staton In “Juliana vs. the United States”

This is why all Americans should be grateful for President Trump’s judicial nominees.

In 2015, a group of 21 children (<cough> I’m sure this was the children’s idea, aren’t you? Sure you are) filed  a lawsuit that came to be known as Juliana vs. the United States. This pure abuse of the legal system to engage in climate change hysteria  grandstanding asserted that the government  was violating their constitutional rights by not sufficiently addressing the climate  change crisis. The case should have been thrown out years ago, but last week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals finally did it.

Well, good. The fact that it took this long was a disgrace, and the result of “Think of the children!” pandering. The 9th Circuit being the residue of judicial activism and liberal bias that it has long been, however, it couldn’t restrain itself from writing, “The panel reluctantly concluded that the plaintiffs’ case must be made to the political branches or to the electorate at large,.”

panel concluded. Whoever one the three judge decided that the word “reluctantly” belonged there should be forceably retired.  “The panel reluctantly concluded that the United States Constitution does not permit courts to dictate national policy, nor citizens, especially those without voting privileges, to bypass our system of governance because they disagree with its policies” is what that word is telling us, and a judge who regrets how the separation of powers operates to that extent does not belong on the bench. Maybe they belong in President Elizabeth Warren’s cabinet, as she announced this week that she would eliminate student loan debt “on day one.” Lord, this woman is a shameless liar!

But I digress. Sorry. Warren’s name is becoming like “Niagara Falls” to me in the old vaudeville skit….

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From The Appearance of Impropriety Files: Justice Scalia’s Hunting Trip

ScaliaCheney

A partyist, ignorant hack named Andrea Paysinger, who is banned from further commentary by the Ethics Alarms “too dumb and biased to contribute” rule, just wrote a comment to the Clinton-Lynch post making the typical ratioanalization-rotted argument that “all the brouhaha over this is ridiculous, childish on the part of all the RIGHT WING jerks who SAW NOTHING WRONG with JUSTICE SCALIA taking gifts and spending vacations PAID FOR by those who actually had cases coming up before SCOTUS AND NOT ONE FUCKING TIME DID HE RECUSE HIMSELF.”

I just love it when people accuse me of being a partisan hypocrite without bothering to check what I have written. As it happens, I wrote a great deal about Scalia’s infamous hunting trip, which I unequivocally condemned as creating the appearance of impropriety. (It was, however, factually less troubling than the Clinton-Lynch meeting, as Scalia and Cheney were never alone during the trip in question.) So for people like Andrea (though not Andrea herself, who won’t be able to get back on this site if she recruits an army of Myrmidons), I will hereby post the two Scalia essays, which currently reside only on the Ethics Scoreboard, now an archive of my ethics commentary prior to 2010.

Unfortunately, the site’s search function stopped working when I had to change platforms recently. If you want to check out the Scoreboard now, just use Google: type “Ethics Scoreboard” and the subject or topic. If there was commentary, you’ll find it.

To give due credit, Andrea did identify real hypocrisy on the Lynch issue. Many of the Democrats exposing themselves as corrupted by partisan bias by now trying to defend Lynch also furiously attacked Scalia’s appearance of impropriety. They—your idols, Andrea— have no integrity. I do.

Here was what I wrote about Scalia’s clear appearance of impropriety in 2004.

Good Judge Hunting: Antonin Scalia and the Cheney Case

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia recently went hunting with Vice President Cheney, even as the Supreme Court prepares to rule on whether the documents pertaining to Cheney’s meetings with energy company officials regarding future US energy policies must be made public. This has led to critics calling for Scalia’s recusal from the case, on the grounds that the social contact renders his objectivity in the matter suspect. Scalia, feisty as always, denies this, and maintains that he is fully capable of ruling objectively.

And I’m sure he is, but that’s beside the point. In the case of judicial independence, it is often appearances that count, and because this is an issue particularly charged with partisan passions, the Supreme Court must avoid any hint that cronyism or personal loyalties are playing a part in the outcome of the legal showdown. Scalia should remove himself from the case.

Justice Scalia has pointed out that personal friendships between the justices and Washington leaders are commonplace, and that mere friendships among professionals should not raise the specter of favoritism or bias. Indeed, had Scalia maintained exactly the same collegial relationship with Cheney, but avoided the hunting trip, there would be no issue. But the outing conjures images of male bonding and frank talk by the campfire (lobbying, perhaps?), and if Justice Scalia were to rule Cheney’s way (and Scalia’s past opinions would suggest that this is likely), the legitimacy of the ruling would be, in the eyes of many, tainted. But there is more.

According to the L.A. Times, Scalia was flown to the hunting reserve on the small jet that serves as Air Force Two. That could be interpreted as a gift to a judge from a pending litigant. The trip has value, and judges are not supposed to accept things of value under circumstances where it calls their objectivity into question. This alone would justify a recusal. And there’s a “strike three.”

The Times reports that the reserve where the duck hunting took place is owned by Wallace Carline, the head of Diamond Services Corp., an oil services firm that is on 41 acres of waterfront property in Amelia, La. The company provides oil dredging, pile driving, salvage work, fabrication, pipe-rolling capability and general oilfield construction. There is no indication that he has a direct stake in the case, but he is an energy executive. So we have a Supreme Court Justice ruling on whether materials should be released regarding the input of the energy industry into national energy policy in meetings held by the Vice-President, after he spends a hunting trip with the Vice-President, who has also provided charter jet transportation, at a hunting reserve where he is the guest of an energy executive.

Come on, Justice Scalia. Continue reading

From The Ethics Alarms Law vs. Ethics Files: Yet Another Example Of How The Public’s Ignorance Of How Laws Work Imperils Us All

guilty

Because he just IS, that’s all. Everybody knows it. Come on. What’s the problem?

Well, I’m still waiting for the wave of op-eds and pundit pieces condemning the judge in the Dennis Hastert case for somehow turning the ex-Speaker’s trial for breaking banking laws into a trial for child molestation even though he couldn’t be charged with that crime.

I appear to be one of the very few people alarmed by this. Coming at a time when we have a Presidential candidate advocating the imprisonment of financial traders without any indications that they broke actual laws, this qualifies as a bona fide societal virus, and a potentially dangerous one.

Over at Popehat, habitual Ethics Hero Ken White flagged another outbreak that somehow I missed (I blame Fred).

It seems that an Oklahoma court rejected the prosecution of a teenage boy for engaging in oral sex with a teenage girl (she was, to be delicate, the oral recipient) who was passed out drunk, and the Court of Criminal Appeals agreed, ruling:

“Forcible sodomy cannot occur where a victim is so intoxicated as to be completely unconscious at the time of the sexual act of oral copulation. We will not, in order to justify prosecution of a person for an offense, enlarge a statute beyond the fair meaning of its language.”

Ken begins, tongue hard in cheek,

“Did you hear? Oklahoma said it’s legal to rape someone if they’re unconscious from drinking! They said it’s not rape at all! It’s classic victim-blaming! It’s outrageous! It’s rape culture! It’s just what you would expect from one of those states!”

He then examines the statutes involved. It turns out that the unimaginative legislature, when defining the crime of forcible sodomy which was what the boy was charged with, missed this set of potential facts. She wasn’t forcibly raped, because she wasn’t conscious. Continue reading

Observations On The George Mason Law School Renaming Debacle

Scalia Law School

Summary: On March 31, George Mason University announced that it was changing the name of its law school, which has rapidly risen from marginal status into respectability in the last few years, to the Antonin Scalia School of Law. The reason: a 30 million dollar contribution from the Charles Koch Foundation, a.k.a. the Koch Brothers and an anonymous donor, who made the name change a condition of his or her generosity. This occurring while the various controversies over Scalia’s legacy and the Supreme Court’s deadlock since his passing were still raging guaranteed indignation from many quarters, including many students and graduates of the law school. The internet and social media communities, meanwhile, having the emotional maturity of fifth graders, concentrated its efforts at snickering over the new school’s acronym, which could be ASSoL, and the Twitter handle, #ASSLAW.

The resulting embarrassment led the school’s Dean to announce  that the name of the school was being altered to “Antonin Scalia Law School.”

Comments:

1. Ethics Alarms had a recent post expressing dismay at the willingness of baseball teams to sell the identity of their ballparks to corporations. This is much worse. George Mason is perhaps the most unjustly forgotten of all the Founders, as he was largely responsible for there being a Bill of Rights in our Constitution The fact that George Mason University and its law school has been slowly rising in prestige and visibility had helped to remedy the unjust obscurity of a historical figure to whom every citizen and the world owes a debt of thanks. George Mason’s honor, however, was considered expendable once the school’s leaders knew the price that using the law school for ideological propaganda could bring at a time of sharp partisan division.

2. Rich people have a right to use their money to make others do things that they shouldn’t or normally wouldn’t want to. The issue is whether there are ethical limits to the kinds of actions and conduct money should be used to buy. Rich families have used their assets to defeat true love, paying  unsuitable suitors to leave without explanation. Desperate celebrities have accepted checks to debase themselves on reality shows. Judas was paid to betray Jesus Christ. Where does using one’s millions to induce a university to betray its duties to alumni and students, as well as other donors and the memory of a crucial American patriot, fall on the spectrum?

3. Was George Mason University obligated to accept 30,000,000 dollars under these conditions? Should money supersede all other considerations for an educational institution? No, and no. Allowing the school to be turned into a billboard for conservative jurisprudence did more than simply alter the name. It altered the perception of the law school, the meaning of its degrees, its public image and its ability to attract a wide range of students from diverse backgrounds. If the school’s leadership didn’t comprehend that, it was a stunning example of institutional incompetence and irresponsible decision-making.

4. If the school’s leadership did comprehend the gravamen of the name change and allowing partisan tycoons to bend the school’s management to their will, then the decision was even less defensible. There was an absolute obligation to consult with the stakeholders in this trade-off: students, alumni, and donors. Failing that obligation constituted a stunning breach of trust. Continue reading

Ethics Observations On Georgetown Law Center’s Scalia Foofarah

Scalia-Georgetown

I am a Georgetown University Law Center grad, as well as a former administrator there. I also know and have personal relationships with several members of the faculty. None of this especially informs my ethical analysis of the community argument there that arose from a rather innocuous official expression of respect and mourning in the wake of Justice Scalia’s death, but if anyone wonders why I’m posting about this rather than many other ethics issues nipping at my heels, that’s part of the reason. The other reason is that this academic dust-up raises interesting ethics issues, and has received national publicity.

Observations on the tale as it has unfolded:

1.  Georgetown Law Center issued a press release mourning the death of Antonin Scalia, including a statement from Dean William M. Treanor that read:

Scalia was a giant in the history of the law, a brilliant jurist whose opinions and scholarship profoundly transformed the law. Like countless academics, I learned a great deal from his opinions and his scholarship. In the history of the Court, few Justices have had such influence on the way in which the law is understood. On a personal level, I am deeply grateful for his remarkably generous involvement with our community, including his frequent appearances in classes and his memorable lecture to our first year students this past November. The justice offered first-year students his insights and guidance, and he stayed with the students long after the lecture was over. He cared passionately about the profession, about the law and about the future, and the students who were fortunate enough to hear him will never forget the experience. We will all miss him.”

[Note: In the original post, I missed the first line, and kept missing it. Don’t ask me why. The text has been finally, after a couple botched attempts, been revised to include it.]

Is there anything inappropriate about the dean’s statement? Not in my view. This is nothing but a traditional expression of professional respect on behalf a prominent institutional member of the legal community. There is nothing in the statement, save for the last sentence, that anyone could argue is untrue. Countless academics, as well as Scalia’s more liberal colleagues, did learn “a great deal from his opinions and his scholarship.” He was an influential and significant figure on the Court. Scalia was generous with his time and passion as a teacher, and by all accounts he was a good one.

The opening statement,  “Scalia was a giant in the history of the law, a brilliant jurist whose opinions and scholarship profoundly transformed the law,”  seems to be what rankled Scalia critics. It shouldn’t have. At worst it is standard memorial puffery. But calling Scalia a giant “ in the history of the law” seems fair whether you agree with his jurisprudence or not: he is certainly among the 20 or so most quoted, most debated, and most provocative justices. The rest shouldn’t be troubling to anyone who isn’t suffering from Scalia-phobia. A Justice can be brilliant and transformational while being wrong.

None of the reports of the controversy ignited by this standard issue sentiment mention it, but Georgetown Law Center isn’t on the Georgetown campus. It has its own campus that is a 15 minute walk from the Supreme Court. Law students regularly attend oral arguments; I did: it was one of the great advantages of studying law there. More than any law school, the Law Center has good reason to feel a special affinity to the Court and all its justices.

2.  What about the last sentence? Is it appropriate for Treaner to speak for the law school community and say that “We will all miss him”? He was reasonable and fair to assume that.  Unfortunately, in today’s vicious partisan divide where opinions and sincere positions reached after thought and research are too often treated as proof of consort with Satan, and ion which even lawyers, who are trained not to take legal arguments personally, are frequently unable to respect a colleague for a well-reasoned argument that they may still think is completely wrong, it was not a safe assumption. Pillory the dean, then, for giving all members of his community the benefit of the doubt, and assuming they are capable of grace, compassion, fairness, professional respect and civility.

It’s still not unethical to assume one’s colleagues have some class.

3. They all don’t, unfortunately. Law Center professors Gary Peller and Mike Seidman (I know Mike, never met Gary) then used the Campus Broadcast system, usually used for event announcements, invitations and policy changes, to send a message  to all members of the student body titled, “Responses to Dean Treanor’s Press Release Regarding Justice Scalia.”  Peller’s statement reads,

Like Mike Seidman, I also was put-off by the invocation of the “Georgetown Community” in the press release that Dean Treanor issued Saturday. I imagine many other faculty, students and staff, particularly people of color, women and sexual minorities, cringed at headline and at the unmitigated praise with which the press release described a jurist that many of us believe was a defender of privilege, oppression and bigotry, one whose intellectual positions were not brilliant but simplistic and formalistic….That ‘community’ would never have claimed that our entire community mourns the loss of J. Scalia, nor contributed to his mystification without regard for the harm and hurt he inflicted.”

This was partisan grandstanding of the worst kind. The professors, of course, have a right to proclaim their opinions to the student body any time they want to, but their complaint here was petty and mean-spirited. It also models behavior that is poisonous both to the legal profession and the culture as a whole. The are saying, in essence,We don’t mourn him, we won’t miss him, and we’re glad to be rid of him, because his legal theories aren’t our legal theories, and we are on the side of the angels while he was an uncaring villain.” Such a message accomplishes nothing positive, and much that is destructive. The professors engaged in demonizing, when their profession and their duty is not to denigrate but reason. If they really think they can prove that Scalia was a defender of privilege, oppression and bigotry, they can make that case in a scholarly paper: I doubt that they can. Scalia often defended the rights to engage in conduct that he did not personally support, as well as some he did: the sloppy rhetoric of Seidman and Peller echoes the legally ignorant who accuse criminal defense attorneys of defending robbery and murder. Continue reading

Ethics Review Of “Supreme Court Vacancy Theater”

Court vacancy

The short review would be “Yecchh.”

The reason that the earlier Ethics Alarms post about the death of Justice Scalia expressed the wish that President Obama on his own declare that he would defer the almost certainly futile appointment of a successor to the tender care of the next President was precisely because it was obvious that any other course was just going to create more ugly partisan name-calling and hypocrisy, accomplishing nothing positive and wasting a lot of energy and time. I also knew that this most divisive of POTUS’s would no more do that than he would deliver his next speech in a duck voice. Thus we have the theater, with people who should know better acting like the Republican Senate’s announcement that it would not be voting on President Obama’s nominee, should he make one, is some  kind of gross breach of duty and ethics, and people who don’t know better acting as if being one Justice short is some kind of Armageddon. Neither is true.

Nor is there any reasonably similar set of circumstances and conditions that makes the GOP’s entirely political decision, and Obama’s entirely political decision to test it, some kind of breach of precedent. There is no precedent—not with these factors in play:

A Democratic President with both Houses controlled by the Republicans

An ideologically and evenly divided Court, with the new Justice potentially having a momentous and nation-changing effect on the determination of many looming cases

An unusually partisan and ideological President who has proven unwilling and unable to seek legitimate input from the opposing party, and who, in fact, has been personally and bitterly insulting toward it

A rebellion against the “establishment” in both parties, from the extreme reaches of both parties, on the grounds that neither is extreme or combative enough

A lame duck, not especially popular President and an approaching national election that is currently being molded by unpredictable personalities and events, and is likely to be hotly contested..

The Supreme Court unusually central to the government of the country.

The vacancy on the Court being created by the death of one of the Court’s most influential, ideological and powerful members.

A degree of political division in the public not experienced since the Civil War.

These are all material factors, made more material in some cases because of the other factors. Thus accusations that the Republican have engaged in some kind of grand, historical crime against democracy is, to the extent the accusers believe it, crap, and to the extent that they don’t, ignorant. Continue reading

Ethical Quote Of The Month: Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

Antonin_Scalia_2010

“I have no illusions that your man will nominate someone who shares my orientation, but I hope he sends us someone smart. Let me put a finer point on it. I hope he sends us Elena Kagan.”

—The recently departed Antonin Scalia, speaking to Obama advisor David Axelrod seven years ago, as President Obama was faced with making his first Supreme Court nomination upon the retirement  of Justice Souter.

Kagan, of course, was finally chosen to fill the second SCOTUS vacancy. Axelrod treats this conversation as somehow shocking, which I guess it would be to a political operative like him, to whom partisan warfare is everything,. Yet Scalia, who was known to be good friends with several of the more liberal members of the court, including Kagan, displayed with that private statement to Axelrod the professional attitude I have heard from many lawyers, and that perfectly describes my own. What is important to have on the Supreme Court are the best and most competent legal minds available. Assuming such judges also possess integrity, the third branch of the government will be in good hands. Continue reading

Thoughts On The Death Of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

chapman.0830 - 08/29/05 - A Supreme Court headed by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has questions for Chapman University Law School professor John Eastman as he and California Attorney General Bill Lockyer argue the 1905 ''Lochner v. State of New York'' case during a re-enactment Monday afternoon at Chapman University. (Credit: Mark Avery/Orange County Register/ZUMA Press)

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court’s most adamant, eloquent, controversial and influential conservative jurist and one of the most important theorists in the institution’s history,  died today, unexpectedly, on a ranch near San Antonio while on a hunting holiday. He was 79.

Reflections:

1.  I had a beer with the Justice at a bar function a long, long time ago, after entertaining the assembled legal heavyweights. He was friendly, funny, and gregarious, and when I asked him if he would be on the Supreme Court for the rest of his life, he said, “God, I hope not!”

2. While everyone will be saying that this ups the ante in the Presidential race, that’s impossible. The importance of the election couldn’t be  greater. The vacancy Scalia’s death creates, unfortunately,will  increase the level of demagoguery from both parties, with the appointment of Scalia’s replacement being elevated to the equivalent of a life and death matter obliterating all other considerations. Anyone who argues that will be exposing their true status as a hack, appealing to hysterics, ignoring te ethical value of proportion. The composition of the Court is important, but it is not that important.

3. What is most important to the Court, and has been lost since Robert Bork became the first qualified judge to be blocked by pure partisan considerations despite undeniably outstanding qualifications, is to have smart, able, proven justices. Scalia was such a jurist.

4 .One of the traits of a qualified jurist is a refusal to pre-judge any issue or case before hearing arguments and knowing all the facts. Several of the current justices, including Scalia, have been sucked into the bitter partisan battles of this era and have made comments that called this trait into question. Continue reading