Several weeks ago, US Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito “pursed his lips, rolled his eyes to the ceiling, and shook his head ‘no’” when fellow Justice Ruth Ginsburg read a dissent in two cases. Such boorish and disrespectful behavior has brought new focus to a pledge made by Connecticut’s two US senators to require Supreme Court justices to abide by the same code of conduct that applies to lower court judges.
Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Christopher Murphy along with US Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-New York) in a letter to the New York Times last month publicly announced they would introduce legislation to bind Supreme Court justices to the code of conduct. What’s good for the lower courts should be good for the highest court in the land.
Justice Alito’s demeanor makes the initiative of the lawmakers that much more important. According to The Atlantic’s Garrett Epps, “Alito pursed his lips, rolled his eyes to the ceiling, and shook his head ‘no.’ He looked for all the world like Sean Penn as Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, signaling to the homies his contempt for Ray Walston as the bothersome history teacher, Mr. Hand.” Epps added, “I found it as jarring as seeing a Justice blow bubblegum during oral argument.” Wow.
Blumenthal, Murphy and Slaughter seemed to have a crystal ball when they wrote on June 13, “As the court prepares to issue landmark decisions on gay marriage, affirmative action and voting rights that will directly affect broad swaths of the American public, we cannot afford to risk a further erosion of trust in this esteemed body’s commitment to the rule of law.” Then, Justice Alito proved them right.
It wasn’t Alito’s first offense. He was seen shaking his head during President Obama’s 2010 state of the union address0 when he spoke about the court’s Citizens United decision.
Any effort in Congress to make the Supreme Court (The Shad will continue to resist any urge to reduce arguably the most powerful branch of government to the name of a Motown musical act) do anything is likely to elicit complaints about a violation of the separation of powers. The Court is famously protective of its autonomy and will likely continue to be so even when it comes to basic, respectful conduct.
In fact, it would be a courageous move by Connecticut’s senators to make the SCOTUS abide by simple rules of conduct.