supreme court, court reform

FFRF’s Dan Barker at D.C. event urges checks on Supreme Court


The Freedom From Religion Foundation, as an early advocate of court reform, today joined several major national groups at a Washington, D.C., press conference asking for judicial ethics reforms. 

At the event outside the U.S. Capitol today, FFRF Co-President Dan Barker said:

We support Sen. [Sheldon] Whitehouse’s and Rep. Hank Johnson’s “Supreme Court Ethics Recusal and Transparency Act’ and Sen. [Alex] Padilla’s “Judicial Ethics and Anti-Corruption Act.” If those ethics rules are good enough for lawmakers, they’re good enough for law judges

We are alarmed that the current court is turning its back on decades of secular precedent in order to privilege religion. FFRF’s more than 40,000 members are mostly atheists and agnostics. But we also represent the religiously unaffiliated who are now about a third of the adult population. But with no openly nonreligious justices on the Supreme Court, our government does not truly represent the rapidly changing demographics. We desire, and deserve, a truly secular government — not one captured by Christian nationalist and religious extremists.

Our Constitution prohibits the government from establishing or promoting religion, but the courts are now being packed with judges who are not neutral, who are turning the “freedom of religion” into the “weaponizing of religion.”

Separation of powers does not mean insulation of powers. It means checks and balances. When the chief justice declined to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on these very matters, he signaled that the current Supreme Court does not want to be checked. But . . . if there is no check, there is no balance.

FFRF is pleased to stand with our partners here in calling for meaningful court reform.
Barker was referring to Chief Justice John Roberts arrogantly declining to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee in its hearing today to rein in the high court. Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin, D-Ill., went ahead with the hearing anyway.

The press conference and hearing follow an embarrassing number of revelations of unchecked conflicts of interest and other ethics problems on the Supreme Court. These revelations include:

  • According to ProPublica, Justice Clarence Thomas accepted expensive and undisclosed gifts of travel and luxurious vacations from GOP donor Harlan Crow, including gatherings at an exclusive resort populated by individuals with cases or judiciary agendas, such as Federalist Society founder Leonard Leo. ProPublica also revealed that in 2014, Crow, a real estate broker, had purchased from Thomas and family members the home of Thomas’ mother, where she is still living, and made substantial improvements to it.
    Thomas previously had to amend 13 years of tax forms in 2011 due to his claim that his wife Ginni had no outside income, even though she’d been paid more than half a million dollars by the Heritage Foundation. It had also been revealed last year that Thomas had failed to make public Ginni’s working with the Trump White House to overturn the 2020 presidential election, even though Thomas was the lone dissent on a case trying to stop release of White House records.
  • As Politico unearthed, Justice Neil Gorsuch in 2017 had sold his share of a vacation property to a firm that has had many cases before the court. Gorsuch reported the sale on federal disclosure forms, but failed to disclose the purchaser, Greenberg Traurig, who, Politico reports, has been involved in at least 22 cases before or presented to the court.
  • Most recently, it was revealed that the chief justice’s wife, Jane Roberts, has raked in more than $10 million via a host of elite law firms she has headhunted for. This includes one firm that argued a case before the court after paying Roberts hundreds of thousands of dollars.

It’s no surprise that public opinion about the court has dropped to a new low, with only 25 percent of Americans saying they have “a great deal” of confidence in the court, according to Gallup.

Among the other groups represented at the press conference Barker spoke at were Alliance for Justice, People for the American Way, National Women’s Law Center, Demand Justice, League of Conservation Voters, Project on Government Oversight, End Citizens United/Let America Vote, Ohio Organizing Collective and National Council of Jewish Women.

Barker’s remarks today on behalf of FFRF bear repeating: If there is no check, there is no balance.

FFRF Action Fund is a 501(c)(4) organization that develops and advocates for legislation, regulations and government programs to preserve the constitutional principle of separation between state and church. It also advocates for the rights and views of nonbelievers, endorses candidates for political office, and publicizes the views of elected officials concerning religious liberty issues.