Ordinarily, when congressional Democrats use phrases such as “stunningly wrong“ to describe Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, they’re referring to one of his judicial rulings.
But in this latest instance, Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut used the line for an entirely different reason. The Associated Press reported:
Justice Samuel Alito says Congress lacks the power to impose a code of ethics on the Supreme Court, making him the first member of the court to take a public stand against proposals in Congress to toughen ethics rules for justices in response to increased scrutiny of their activities beyond the bench.
The far-right jurist specifically told editors of The Wall Street Journal opinion page, “I know this is a controversial view, but I’m willing to say it. No provision in the Constitution gives them the authority to regulate the Supreme Court — period.”
It’s difficult to know where to start, but let’s review the great many reasons Alito is mistaken in ways he really ought to understand.
First, the U.S. Constitution is quite explicit in giving the legislative branch oversight authority over the judicial branch. Lawmakers are responsible for confirming judges and justices; they have the power to impeach judges and justices; and Article III, Sec. 2 literally says the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction exists “under such Regulations as the Congress shall make.”
Second, Alito isn’t just wrong on as a statutory matter. As Congress responds to a series of serious ethics controversies — a series that Alito has directly contributed to — the jurist’s position is that he doesn’t want to be bothered by those who have oversight authority over the institution in which he serves. That’s not how our system of government is supposed to work.
Third, we’re probably overdue for a larger conversation about Alito becoming a little too cozy with the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal.
Fourth, the justice could’ve presented this misguided argument in any number of different forums, but he chose to talk to the Journal’s David B. Rivkin Jr. — an attorney who’s part of a team with a tax case currently pending at the Supreme Court.
Fifth, this was a fight Alito didn’t need to pick. The ethics reform package awaiting action in the Senate stands effectively zero chance of becoming law, in part because of an inevitable Republican filibuster, and in part because the House has a GOP majority. The justice, in other words, could’ve left well enough alone, but he instead thought it’d be wise to make an outlandish, needlessly provocative, and demonstrably misguided claim.
Finally, my MSNBC colleague Jordan Rubin also noted Alito voicing concerns about those who question the legitimacy of the increasingly radicalized high court, seemingly indifferent to the irony: Few have done more than Alito to raise doubts about the integrity of the bench upon which he sits.
We are, after all, talking about a sitting justice who has earned a reputation as the high court’s most unyielding ideologue, who has delivered a series of overtly political speeches, who recently issued a public endorsement of a conservative advocacy group’s work, who thought it’d be a good idea last fall to defend the Supreme Court’s integrity at a pro-Trump organization, exactly two weeks before the midterm elections, and who sat down with the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page — again — to declare his indifference to congressional oversight.
And then, of course, there's Alito's far-right judicial record, which includes, among other things, writing the ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade.
Does Alito realize that the criticisms he disdains only grow louder in response to political antics?