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How the Supreme Court majority will rule on President Obama’s Affordable Care Act may well have been foretold months or perhaps years ago — not so much by their questions during argument this week as by their flagrant displays of bias outside the court, where certain justices regularly behave as dubiously as any sleazy officeholder.

While the public awaits the high court’s judgment on the constitutionality of health care reform, it is worth remembering how cheaply Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas in particular have sullied the integrity of their lifetime appointments, and how casually Chief Justice John Roberts and their other colleagues tolerate such outrages.

What is most scandalous in Washington, as a wise pundit once suggested, are the things politicians do that are perfectly legal but shouldn’t be – an observation that applies with particular force to the Supreme Court, which is not subject to the ethics restrictions applied to lesser judges on the federal bench. That was why Scalia and Thomas, for instance, could appear as guests of honor at a fundraising dinner for the right-wing Federalist Society — which was sponsored by Bancroft PLLC, a major firm involved in litigation against the Affordable Care Act — on the very same day last November that they reviewed an appeal brief on the case from Paul Clement, the Bancroft attorney whose arguments they received so cordially this week.

In fact, Clement sat at a table “sandwiched between” the two justices. Scalia was seated with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who had told the Federalists that he would rely on them to help undo the “affront” represented by health care reform. And for good measure, Justice Samuel Alito enjoyed the event at another table nearby.

If they were mere federal district or appeals judges, neither Scalia nor Thomas would have been permitted to attend the Federalist celebration, while Alito’s attendance would have been questionable, to say the least. But members of the right-wing majority abuse their immunity from ethics regulation without sanction. Poised to reject the Affordable Care Act with the kind of sweeping opinion that could tear down decades of Commerce clause jurisprudence, they merit the sharp scrutiny of their motives and conduct that they have largely escaped until now, even as they drift further and further toward the corporate right.

Investigative reports have revealed partisan and ideological ties that the justices themselves have sought to conceal, dating back to Scalia’s duck-hunting trip with then-Vice President Dick Cheney, who had pending before the court a lawsuit challenging the secrecy of his Energy Task Force. No federal judge would have dared to rule in such circumstances, but Scalia dismissed the obvious appearance of conflict with an unbecoming sneer. As Scott Horton reported in Harpers magazine, Scalia’s duck-hunting patrons in Mississippi had brought other vital matters before him to get their way, again in a manner that any self-respecting ethical jurist would instinctively abhor.

More recently, Scalia and Thomas were used as celebrity bait by the ultra-right Koch brothers, David and Charles, to draw well-heeled supporters to a secretive conference on undermining the Obama administration at a fancy Western resort. It would be hard to imagine any activity less appropriate for a Supreme Court justice, unless it was Thomas’s wife Ginny accepting huge payments from a Tea Party organization devoted to repeal of health care reform, which she did in 2010. The justices failed to report any of these screaming conflicts on their disclosure reports, compounding the offense with the coverup.

Alito has likewise ignored the federal judicial ethics rule against political fundraising on several occasions, including at least two events to raise money for the far-right American Spectator magazine and for the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, the original sponsors of video dirty trickster James O’Keefe. It is strange to see a Supreme Court justice associating with such gamy ideological enterprises — and even more surprising to learn that Alito gave a blazing partisan keynote address at a Spectator dinner where he denounced Vice President Joe Biden in highly personal terms. When ThinkProgress reporter Lee Fang approached Alito to ask about his role as a right-wing fundraiser, he snapped that it “isn’t important” and his bodyguards threatened to arrest Fang.

The right-wing bloc’s cynical attitude toward judicial corruption was expressed most succinctly by Chief Justice Roberts, in his opinion upholding a West Virginia judge who had failed to recuse himself from a major case involving the A. T. Massey Coal Company. Roberts could see nothing wrong with the judge’s conduct — even though Don Blankenship, Massey’s CEO and principal owner, had donated $3 million to the judge’s re-election campaign. That was too much even for Justice Anthony Kennedy — himself a former lobbyist and the son of a lobbyist — who voted with the court’s liberal justices to uphold the constitutional right to adjudication by a magistrate unimpaired by the blatant appearance of favoritism.

Now it will be up to Justice Kennedy to step up in defense of honest, true conservatism — against the right-wing judicial activism that would vacate decades of Commerce Clause jurisprudence for a partisan objective, and against the corrupting political misconduct of Thomas, Scalia, and Alito — by joining a majority to uphold the Affordable Care Act. By doing so, he might begin to dispel the partisan taint that has afflicted the court since Bush v. Gore in 2000 — the decision that eventually brought Roberts and Alito onto the court to form their abusive majority.

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Former President Donald Trump, left, and former White House counsel Pat Cipollone

On Wednesday evening the House Select Committee investigating the Trump coup plot issued a subpoena to former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, following blockbuster testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who said the lawyer had warned of potential criminal activity by former President Donald Trump and his aides.

The committee summons to Cipollone followed long negotiations over his possible appearance and increasing pressure on him to come forward as Hutchinson did. Committee members expect the former counsel’s testimony to advance their investigation, owing to his knowledge of the former president's actions before, during and after the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

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