Op-Eds Speaking Truth to the Powers-That-Be
We really have to thank Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas for last Thursday’s enlightening lesson in Supreme Court hypocrisy. Just hours after considering whether to take on the review of the Health Care Reform Act, the pair were the guests of honor at an annual dinner of the conservative Federalist Society where one of the sponsors is the law firm arguing against health care reform. Most of the more prominent guests at the conservative organization lean heavily against the Health Care law.
The more egregious sponsors were Bancroft PLLC, the law firm which will argue that the law should be thrown out. The lawyer in the firm most likely to rep the case in this clubby environment is Paul Clement, who was Solicitor General during the George W. Bush administration.
It would seem more than a conflict of interest for two sitting Supreme Court justices to be the featured guests of an organization which included sponsors and guests like pharmaceuticals maker Pfizer, Senate Minority Leader and rabid Obama hater Mitch McConnell, and the National Federation of Independent Business, which challenged the law.
“This stunning breach of ethics and indifference to the code belies claims by several justices that the court abides by the same rules that apply to all other federal judges,” Bob Edgar, the president of Common Cause told the Trib. “The justices were wining and dining at a black-tie fundraiser with attorneys who have pending cases before the court. Their appearance and assistance in fundraising for this event undercuts any claims of impartiality, and is unacceptable.”
We learned, though, thanks to the Chicago Tribune’s story, that the Supremes are not subject to the Code of Conduct that regulates the ethics of lower court federal judges.
Had they been, the dinner would have clearly violated Canon 4c:
“A judge may attend fund-raising events of law-related and other organizations although the judge may not be a speaker, a guest of honor, or featured on the program of such an event.”
Of course, this is not the first time that the pair have thumbed their noses at the good name of the Supreme Court. In October of 2010, we noted the New York Times report that the pair had been touted as guests at the secretive Koch Brothers retreat which normally has more secrecy surrounding the guest list than a CIA get-together (See: Big Brothers Are Watching You).
This same Federalist Society reimbursed Justice Thomas for four days of travel and transportation to one of the Koch Brothers secretive retreats, where it is alleged that he spoke to the meeting there as well.  Common Cause in 2011 took up the challenge, in part to try to get the Court to re-examine the awful Citizens United decision that turned corporations into “people” and unleashed a tidal wave of cash into political campaigns and astroturf grass roots movements. Thomas met with the Kochs and their friends a year before the decision.
Is there wrongdoing or real impropriety in these justices hob-knobbing with hard-Righties? Perhaps. What used to be bell clear, though, is that those who sat on the bench of the highest court in the land didn’t need canons of ethics because it was expected of them that they would never even appear to dishonor the Court.
Justices Thomas and Scalia do not seem to be so inclined. This is now the second time prior to a landmark case that these two men have decided that, as long as there is no printed ethical rule that they are violating, they are free to do as they will and speak at meetings to which no other sitting Federal judge would be allowed. Yes, they have attended the Federalist dinners in the past. When one is about to review a law where one of the major law firms to speak out against it is attending the dinner, and Pfizer is opposed the the Health Care Reform Act as well, it might be good to take a pass for one year.
The Koch-controlled congress is not apt to deliver legislation that extends the conflict of interest rules of other federal judges up to the Supreme Court. Nor are they likely to install term limits on the Justices any time soon. The court itself can agree to operate under the canons of ethics without legislation. Chief Justice Roberts can implement that all on his own.
Scalia and Thomas should recuse themselves from the health care law’s review scheduled for later in the current session of the Supreme Court. They demonstrated clear bias in their attendance and speaking at this year’s Federalist Society dinner.
We ask that you SIGN OUR PETITION to ask the court to adopt the same canons of ethics that other federal judges live by, and to have Justices Scalia and Thomas recuse themselves at Signon.org. Get ten of your friends to do the same.
My shiny two.