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Screen my wife

Under the American Bar Association model ethical rules, a lawyer who has a conflict of interest with his law firm’s client can be “screened” out of the case; just because one lawyer has a conflict doesn’t mean the whole firm does. The lawyer doesn’t get to participate or receive any information about the “screened” matter. I suppose this is a fiction that lets the ABA ethics committee sleep better while allowing very large firms to take almost any clients they want.

“Morning Bill. I hope you didn’t see those slides and documents on the company’s server about that case you have a conflict on. We certainly wouldn’t talk to you about it in any event. Double pinky swear.”

The US Supreme Court isn’t subject to any ethical rules, even the illusory double pinky swear kind.

To paraphrase Justice Robert Jackson in Brown v. Allen, the court isn’t ethical because it’s infallible, it’s infallible because it makes up the ethical rules as it goes along.

Which brings us to Justice Clarence Thomas who is not bound by any ethical rules, and his best friend, and incidentally, the women he shares his life with, Ginni Thomas, who as a lawyer is subject to ethical rules. Wrap your head around that one.

Ms. Thomas tweeted to Trump’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows immediately after Trump’s 2020 election loss. Tweeting to a litigant about a matter that is or may be before the court is an obvious conflict of interest for Justice Thomas. He effectively claims his wife was “screened” off from any court matters, though, and in any event, he’s not subject to conflict of interest rules. Ms, Thomas told Mr. Meadows that he should hang in there so that the army could help Trump stay in office. Sedition? Most certainly.

Justice Thomas could have maintained the appearance of integrity by at least recusing himself on Trump’s lawsuit to overturn the election results. But he didn’t. And he was the only justice who supported the Trump team’s alternate reality litigation, because, of course, so did Ginni.

I’m enough of a cynic to know that most of the time the fix is in with our American oligarchs. In order to keep the delusion of functioning democratic institutions, most of the time they are at least discreet. Today, however, our highest court can behave like a bought-and-paid-for court in any banana republic, and there are no real consequences.


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