Julie A. Werner-Simon is a former federal prosecutor, and adjunct law professor at University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law & Drexel University’s Kline School of Law,. She also serves as a legal analyst at Drexel’s LeBow School of Business
Not a day goes by, of late, without a new revelation from Pro Publica about Justice Clarence Thomas’ receipt of gifts from a particular Republican mega-donor. But what appears to be lost in the public discourse is that there is a difference between (i) the federal codes-of-conduct (such as no gifts from a single source in excess of $20 or $50 in a single year to Department of Justice employees) and (ii) what we old-timers at DOJ called “the Watergate forms.” The latter are those annual, post-Watergate, financial disclosure forms that supervisory, high-level and/or Senate confirmed federal employees from the three branches (congressional, executive and judiciary) must complete ever year.
The Supremes do not yet have a code of conduct like the lower federal courts, so nothing prevents the top jurists and their families from taking whatever they choose. But the nine federal jurists occupying One First Street NE in D.C. (like the rest of the supervisors on the federal payroll who maintain positions of public trust) must truthfully and completely fill out the annual disclosure forms. The purpose of the legislation (which sets out the mandatory duty for the federal higher-ups who receive paychecks paid by the U.S. Treasury) is crystal clear from its title. It’s called “the Ethics in Government Act of 1978.”
Justice Thomas, like me, was required to disclose what he, his spouse and dependents received from third parties. Why? Because the public is entitled to know. For him to say that “colleagues and others in the judiciary” said it was okay to not provide information to the public about these gifts — conflicts with the explicit words of the statute. There was no need for Justice Thomas to rely on colleagues for direction. All three branches of government, the judiciary (Justice Thomas)…