Bankruptcy as an Impeachable Offense
posted by Gerard Magliocca
I was reading up on James Wilson over the weekend–a tragic story to be sure. Here’s one issue from the end of his life that could present a problem someday.
Justice Wilson invested heavily in frontier property and could not meet his debt payments by the mid-1790s. He was (as was the practice then) thrown into debtor’s prison and died in North Carolina on the run from other creditors. Had he lived longer, he might have been impeached.
Question: Suppose a future Justice of the Court makes some really bad investments and is forced to declare personal bankruptcy. Assuming that this Justice did not engage in fraud and continued to show up for work, would his or her bad financial judgment be sufficient grounds for impeachment?
At first blush, the answer is no. Going bankrupt is not a crime–it happens to lots of people. On the other hand, a bankrupt Justice would not exactly exude authority or generate confidence, and might, I suppose, be a ripe target for corruption. Plus, there might be lots of conflicts (Would the penniless Justice have to recuse from all bankruptcy cases?)