Opinion | Justices Ignoring the ‘Scent of Impropriety’

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To the Editor:

Re “What Smells Off at the Court?,” by Michael Ponsor (Opinion guest essay, July 16):

Judge Ponsor’s bewilderment at the loss of olfaction on the Supreme Court is spot on. As he explained, it isn’t that hard for a judge to catch even a faint whiff of the scent of impropriety.

And you don’t have to be a federal judge to smell it. Every federal employee knows that aroma. When I was a Justice Department lawyer, a group of federal and state lawyers spent months negotiating in a conference room at the defendant’s law firm. The firm regularly ordered in catered lunches and invited the government attorneys to partake. None of us ever accepted a bite.

Another time, a company hoping to build a development on a Superfund site hosted a presentation for federal and municipal officials. The company’s spokesperson presented each city official with a goodie bag filled with stuff like baseball caps bearing the project’s name. To me and my colleagues, the spokesperson said: “We didn’t bring any for you. We knew you wouldn’t take them.” They were right.

The sense of smell is more highly evolved in the depths of the administrative state than in the rarefied air at the pinnacle of the judicial branch.

Steve Gold
Caldwell, N.J.
The writer now teaches at Rutgers Law School.

To the Editor:

Judge Michael Ponsor alludes to the Code of Conduct for United States Judges as the guide he has followed his entire career. However, he implies that the code is faulty by stating the Supreme Court needs a “skillfully drafted code” to avoid political pressure on justices. He does not elaborate on what shortcomings the existing code has that make it inapplicable to the Supreme Court.

The existing code is very skillfully drafted. It emphasizes that the foundation of the judicial system is based on public trust in the impartiality of judges. The code is very clear that the “appearance of impropriety” is as important as its absence.

This is at the core of the scandals of current sitting justices. The actions and favors received most certainly have the appearance of impropriety. Those appearances of impropriety are undermining confidence and trust in the Supreme Court. No amount of rationalization and argle-bargle by the justices can change that.

R.J. Godin
Berkeley, Calif.

To the Editor:

When I served as a United States district judge, it did not take an acute sense of smell for me to determine what action was ethically appropriate. I had a simple test that was easy to apply: Do I want to read about this in The New York Times? I think the current members of the Supreme Court are beginning to realize the value of this simple test.

John S. Martin
Fort Myers, Fla.
The writer served as a district judge for the Southern District of New York from 1990 to 2003.

To the Editor:

Re “Cost of Scrutinizing Trump Continues to Grow” (front page, July 24):

We should weigh the cost of investigating and prosecuting allegations of major crimes committed by Donald Trump against the cost of doing nothing.

Imagine a world in which the United States descends into an authoritarian regime — with our rulers selected by violent mobs rather than in elections. The costs to our rights as citizens and our system of free enterprise would be incalculably larger in such a world than what Jack Smith is currently spending to hold Mr. Trump accountable for his actions.

Eric W. Orts
The writer is a professor of legal studies and business ethics at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and a visiting professor of law at Columbia University.

To the Editor:

Re “Poll Workers Get Retraction From Giuliani” (front page, July 27):

If there was such widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election, why did Rudy Giuliani resort to falsely accusing the two Atlanta election workers? Didn’t he have many true examples of fraud to choose from?

Tom Fritschler
Port Angeles, Wash.

To the Editor:

Re “Legacy Admission at Harvard Faces Federal Inquiry” (front page, July 26):

While I applaud the focus on legacy admissions, it is clear that the entire process needs an overhaul. Every day now it feels as if a new study is released that confirms what we had long suspected: that elite colleges favor the wealthy and the connected. Does anyone believe that removing legacy admissions alone will change this?

As it stands, elite schools care too much about wealth and prestige to fundamentally alter practices that tie them to wealthy and connected people. If the Education Department is serious about reform, it will broaden its inquiry to examine the entire system.

However one feels about the Supreme Court decision on affirmative action, at the very least it has forced us to reconsider the status quo. I pray that policymakers take this opportunity instead of leaving the bones of the old system in place.

Alex Chin
San Francisco
The writer is a graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Education and is pursuing a Ph.D. at Teachers College, Columbia University.

To the Editor:

Re “Emails Report List of Attacks by Biden’s Dog” (news article, July 26):

I support Joe Biden’s presidency and think he is generally a thoughtful, kind man. But I am appalled to learn that Secret Service agents — or any employees at the White House — have to regularly contend with the risk of being bitten by the president’s German shepherd.

No one deserves to face not just the physical harm and pain of dog bites but also the constant fear of proximity to such an aggressive pet. Keeping the dog, Commander, at the White House shows poor judgment.

This situation hardly reflects the Bidens’ respect and caring for those sworn to serve them. It’s time for Commander to find a new home better suited to his needs.

Cheryl Alison
Worcester, Mass.

To the Editor:

Re “The Disaster No One Wants to Talk About,” by Michelle Goldberg (column, July 23):

I am a Brit, a fact I have been ashamed of since the Brexit vote in 2016, if not before.

I voted to stay in the European Union. I was shocked at the result, and I was more shocked at the ignorance of others who voted.

Our lives absolutely have changed since Brexit, but not for the better. My family is poorer, and we can no longer afford a holiday or many of the luxuries we previously could. As the economy suffers, with the rise in interest rates our mortgage is set to reach unspeakable sums. Package that with a near doubling in the cost of our weekly groceries, and we have big decisions that need to be made as a family.

And still, despite this utter chaos, the widespread use of food banks, the regular striking of underpaid and underappreciated key workers, despite all of this, there are still enough people to shout loud in support of Brexit and the Conservative Party.

We are a nation in blind denial. We are crashing. And yes, we are being pushed to breaking up into pieces not seen for centuries.

As a family we miss the E.U., we mourn the E.U., and we grieve for the quality of life we once had but may never see again.

Nevine Mann
Redruth, England

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