News. Debate. Community. Levers for a better democracy.
Government Ethics

Two justices defend being part of a case involving a company where they own stock

Justices Steven Breyer and Samuel Alito say they did not need to recuse themselves from a case involving an aerospace firm owned by United Technologies, in which both are invested.

They issued a rare joint public statement defending their decision Monday, highlighting how Supreme Court ethical standards are totally unregulated and will likely remain so, because Congress has come up short for years on legislation that would compel the justices to create a formalized standard of professional conduct for themselves. Such language is in the political and ethics overhaul passed by the Democratic House, dubbed HR 1, which has been consigned to oblivion in the Republican Senate.


The court declined to hear the case, Feng v. Komenda, which involves a company now owned by United Technologies. According to their most recent financial disclosures, Breyer owns up to $250,000 worth of UT stock and Alito as much as $50,000.

The stock ownership conflict was first disclosed by Fix the Court, which advocates for judicial ethical transparency. Judges on lower courts are barred from participating in any case involving a company in which they hold even a single share. But the court is not covered by those rules. Also Rockwell Collins, the company purchased by United Technologies, essentially said it was not going to respond to the workplace discrimination claim at the heart of the case.

"The court has a diligent conflict checking process but without a response there would be no way to find out there was a conflict," the two justices said.

"Whether or not they see these non-recusals as errors, Roberts, Breyer and Alito have yet to explain why they continue to own individual stocks, which cause dozens of unnecessary disqualifications each year," Gabe Roth, executive director of Fix the Court, said in response that also referred to Chief Justice John Roberts. "Taking a step back, it's also a bit odd that corporate litigants can simply shield a potential conflict that works in their favor by not filing a response to a petition."

News. Community. Debate. Levers for better democracy.

Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter.

NickyBlade/Getty Images

More states rolling the dice for election security

The paper trail has become the industry standard for giving voters and elections officials confidence that ballots haven't been hacked. Now comes another back-to-the-future move for boosting security and bolstering public confidence in elections: the return of the 10-sided dice.

The quirky toys found in many high school classrooms and role-playing games are part of a pilot program announced this week in Pennsylvania, which is joining a handful of other states in trying out a math-based system for checking the accuracy of election returns.

The "risk-limiting audit" searches for irregularities in vote tallies and relies on some seriously advanced statistical analysis combined with a bit of analog randomness, which is where auditors using those pentagonal trapezohedrons (the dice) at public audit hearings will ­­get involved.

Keep reading... Show less
Inquire Indiana: Which Counties Don't Have Paper Ballots?

Indiana moving far too slowly to thwart election hacking, lawsuit alleges

Indiana is not moving nearly assertively enough to upgrade its voting machines so they're less vulnerable to hackers, a nonprofit alleges in a federal lawsuit pressing the state to spend millions more before the presidential election.

At issue is the timetable for eliminating the direct recording electronic, or DRE, voting machines that are in use in 58 of the state's 92 counties. The complaint filed Thursday by Indiana Vote by Mail, which advocates for any array of proposals to give Hoosiers easier access to the ballot box, wants to force the state to replace the paperless devices in the next year with machines that produce a voter-verified paper audit trail.

Indiana for now looks to be among just eight states using paperless balloting in 2020, when President Trump will be counting on its 11 electoral votes. The state last went for the Democratic candidate for president in 2008.

Keep reading... Show less