I’ve looked into this before, and found there was a decision by the court several years ago in which they said they’re weren’t bound by the same ethics rules as other federal judges. (As I recall, the statement was along the lines of “We’re Supreme Court justices, you should assume we wouldn’t do anything unethical.”) I don’t know about you, but I’m immensely reassured:
WASHINGTON…Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas failed over the course of at least five years to report his wife’s income from a conservative think-tank on his financial disclosures, according to the watchdog group Common Cause.
Between 2003 and 2007, Virginia Thomas, a longtime conservative activist, was paid $686,589 by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, according to a Common Cause review of IRS records. Thomas failed to note the income in his financial disclosure forms for those years, choosing instead to check a box titled “none” where “spousal non-investment income” would normally be disclosed.
A Supreme Court spokesperson authorized to speak on behalf of the justices could not immediately be reached for comment late Friday. But Virginia Thomas’ employment by the Heritage Foundation was well known at the time.
Virginia Thomas has also been active in the group Liberty Central, an organization she founded for the purpose of restoring the “founding principles” of limited government and individual liberty.
In his 2009 disclosure, Justice Thomas also reported spousal income as “none.” Common Cause contends that Liberty Central paid Thomas an unknown salary during that year.
Federal judges are bound by law to disclose the source of spousal income, according to Stephen Gillers, a law professor at NYU Law School. Thomas’s omission — which could be interpreted as a violation of that law — could lead to some form of penalty, Gillers said.
“It wasn’t a miscalculation, he simply omitted his wife’s source of income for six years, which is a rather dramatic omission,” said Gillers “It could not have been an oversight.”
But Steven Lubet, an expert on judicial ethics at Northwestern University School of Law, said that such an infraction was unlikely to result in a penalty. While unfamiliar with the Thomas complaint, he said that failure to disclose spousal income “is not a crime of any sort, but there is a potential civil penalty” for failing to follow the rules. He added: “I am not aware of a single case of a judge being penalized simply for this.”
The Supreme Court is, “the only judicial body in the country that is not governed by a set of judicial ethical rules,” Gillers said.