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07/05/2009

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The lack of specialized competence of Senate members is - I suggest - deliberate. The single efficiency that Senators must master is how to position themselves for re-election.

A case in point is the Judiciary Committee's approach to questioning Judge Sotomayor. Apart from posturing before each seantor's elecgoral base, nothing at all of substance was addressed to this prospective Supreme Court justice. Not a single member of the Senate Judiciary Committee asked Judge Sotomayor even one question about her personal knowledge about judges, who receive gifts from litigators and litigants. Nor was there any questioning or information presented to the public about her current role as an adjudicator of complaints made by the public about 2nd Circuit judge misconduct. Tellingly, not a single Senator asked Judge Sotomayor if she herself has ever accepted a gift from a litigator or litigant with a matter before her.

Under the current Canons of Judicial Ethics and Judicial Complaint Rules, it is OK – encouraged even – for parties with interests before the courts, to make gifts to federal judges and to Supreme Court Justices themselves. It is going to take a new set of Justices to fix this – and the fixing ought to have begun with Judge Sotomayor.

Every prospective judicial nominee ought to pledge not to accept gifts while serving as a jurist. This simple rule would go far toward fixing the ethical mess which now bring such discredit to judges at every level.

A clean and neat Best Practices Pledge might be as simple as this: ‘I will not accept any gift or benefit or any item of any value whatsoever during my service on the Supreme Court.’

Richard Baldwin Cook
author of
Judge Sotomayor: She is Qualified But . . .

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