Justice Jackson Lobs Snark At Supreme Court In Dissent On Government 'Greed'

Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson had sharp words for her conservative colleagues Wednesday in a case revolving around a public official accused of accepting a bribe.

In the case, former small-town mayor James Snyder asked the court to determine whether a particular federal criminal statute makes it illegal for public officials to accept compensation from people or entities they help in their official role — as he did by taking a $13,000 check from a company after awarding it city contracts.

The high court’s conservative majority came down on Snyder’s side, deciding in part that the statute doesn’t cover tokens of gratitude to public officials. The statute bans people from giving gifts to officials before said officials do them a favor. But giving gifts after a favor was a different story, they said, and Snyder took a payment afterward.

Jackson disagreed.

“Greed makes governments — at every level — less responsive, less efficient, and less trustworthy from the perspective of the communities they serve,” she began her opinion.

“Snyder’s absurd and atextual reading of the statute is one only today’s Court could love,” the liberal jurist went on.

Her words carried extra weight as a series of scandals has continued to undermine public trust in the Supreme Court itself.

Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito have bothaccepted lavish giftsin the form of luxury vacations, private jet travel and, in Thomas’ case, cash to buy a high-end RV, according to reporting from ProPublica. The justices have argued they had the right to accept tokens of friendship, but the revelations — made by journalists and congressional investigators — prompted the court to start requiring slightly more detailed financial disclosures from its members.

Critics say the damage has already been done. In September, Gallup reported that Americans’ views of the Supreme Court were at record lows.

Jackson spent 22 pages picking apart the majority decision in the Snyder case, which was itself only 16 pages and was penned by Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor joined in the dissent.

In it, Jackson argued that the majority was wrongly preoccupied with whether it made sense for Congress to regulate gifts made to public officials because state and local governments often do so.

“The Court’s reasoning elevates nonexistent federalism concerns over the plain text of this statute and is a quintessential example of the tail wagging the dog,” Jackson said.

In his opinion, Kavanaugh suggested that allowing the anti-corruption statute to cover gifts would create chaos and confusion for the nation’s “entire army of 19 million state and local officials” — such as “librarians, snow plow drivers, court clerks, prison guards, high school basketball coaches” and many others.

“Is a $100 Dunkin’ Donuts gift card for a trash collector wrongful? What about a $200 Nike gift card for a county commissioner who voted to fund new school athletic facilities? Could students take their college professor out to Chipotle for an end-of-term celebration? And if so, would it somehow become criminal to take the professor for a steak dinner?” Kavanaugh wrote.

Jackson countered that “gift cards, burrito bowls, and steak dinners” served to “derail” the majority’s decision.

The statute, she said, “was not designed to apply to teachers accepting fruit baskets, soccer coaches getting gift cards, or newspaper delivery guys who get a tip at Christmas. We know this because, beyond requiring acceptance of a reward, [the statute] weaves together multiple other elements (that the Government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt), which collectively do the nuanced work of sifting illegal gratuities from inoffensive ones.”

“Because reading [the statute] to prohibit gratuities — just as it always has — poses no genuine threat to common gift giving, but does honor Congress’s intent to punish rewards corruptly accepted by government officials in ways that are functionally indistinguishable from taking a bribe, I respectfully dissent,” she concluded.