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Inside Track in Washington

Wed, 02/08/2023 - 11:36


Washington, D.C., does not care what the rest of the country thinks. Perhaps it never did, but the degree to which our national leaders lack a sense of contrition, or even decency, today is staggering. Long Island’s own George Santos was elected to the House of Representatives in the fall on a truckload of lies. Another Republican House member, Andrew S. Clyde of Georgia, has been handing out lapel pins depicting an assault rifle to his colleagues — always classy, Mr. Santos eagerly accepted the gift.

The spouse of Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas was part of the effort to keep the former president in the White House after voters had decided it was time for him to go. The court’s chief justice, John Roberts, was already presiding over an institution that has fallen to historic lows in public confidence when the latest matter arose about his own spouse, Jane Sullivan Roberts. The allegation is that his wife’s job as a high-end headhunter for D.C. law firms presented an obvious potential for conflicts of interest.

A former colleague of hers provided records to the Justice Department and Congress indicating that Mrs. Roberts made millions in commissions for placing partner-track lawyers at firms — some of which have business before the Supreme Court, according to a letter obtained by The New York Times. These were big-money deals; one cited by The Times resulted in a $690,000 payment to her recruiting company. Moreover, because the identities of the lawyers she helped land lucrative private-sector Washington partnerships were kept secret, there was no way to know to what degree back-channel influence on the court was or was not happening. In a statement, a Supreme Court spokeswoman not surprisingly said this was all fine and dandy.

The issue for Chief Justice Roberts is to what degree a law firm with matters before the Supreme Court might play the inside game. The chief justice’s salary is about $280,000, not peanuts, but just a fraction of what Mrs. Roberts might bring in annually to help keep the household afloat. A law firm helping put caviar on the Roberts table might expect a more favorable reception at his court, an inside track. Americans, though, should expect a higher ethical standard from the highest court in the land.



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