Supreme Ethics Problem?

An examination of the Supreme Court disclosure forms by ABC News found that five of the justices have accepted tens of thousand of dollars in country club memberships. And Justice Clarence Thomas has received tens of thousands of dollars in valuable gifts, including an $800 leather jacket from NASCAR, a $1,200 set of tires, a vacation trip by private jet, and a rare Bible valued at $19,000.

"The rules dealing with gifts don't apply to Justice Thomas because the rules only apply to lower court judges," Gillers explained. "People give gifts to judges and justices because they have power. And they have power because of their position that they hold in trust. And to suggest that it doesn't matter, no one will care, seems to me to be whistling in the dark."

At a Crossroads

Some argue that the Supreme Court justices are setting a bad example for other judges, who have been criticized for accepting free trips to luxury resorts for education seminars.

"I think the judiciary is really at a crossroads right now. There is a multibillion-dollar influence peddling industry in Washington, and it really has the federal judiciary in its sights at this point," Doug Kendall, director of Community Rights Counsel and author of a study on trips for judges, said.

The issue of accepting paid trips found its way into the confirmation hearing for now Chief Justice John Roberts.

"So I'd like to know, Judge Roberts, if confirmed, whether you will use your power as chief justice to set a high ethical tone," Senator Russell Feingold, D-Wis., asked.

In reply, Roberts said, "Well, I don't think special interests should be allowed to lobby federal judges. Stated that way, I think the answer is clear."

Roberts, Scalia and Thomas declined comment and requests for interviews by ABC News. A spokesman for the Federalist Society also declined to comment.

Rhonda Schwartz and David Scott contributed to this report.

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