Common Cause has obtained the financial disclosure reports of eight of the nine Justices of the Supreme Court. Justice Alito's is unavailable, either because it was not yet ready for release or because he filed an extension.
Of particular note, Justice Antonin Scalia reports reimbursement for "Transportation, Food and Lodging" from an organization called "Friends of Abe." Justice Scalia reports that he gave a speech before Friends of Abe on August 25, 2012.
What is Friends of Abe? Last year, University of Southern California historian Steven J. Ross, writing for "The Washington Post," reported that "Friends of Abe" is "the most important source of underground political activism in Hollywood today." Ross also reported that its Hollywood members "meet in restaurants and private homes to discuss supporting candidates and promoting film and television projects that offer conservative views." For being as secretive as it is, Friends of Abe has managed to gather a smattering of press clips. '"The Washington Times" calls Friends of Abe "Hollywood's Conservative Underground," and a "loose-knit network of entertainers" that are trying to "counter the entertainment industry's tilt toward liberalism and Democratic politics, such as campaigning for Republican Sen. John McCain." Reuters reported that "Friends of Abe, as in Lincoln, [is] a social and networking group that meets monthly to hear guest speakers. It was founded in 2004 by actor Gary Sinise and [Lionel] Chetwynd and has hosted such leading Republicans as House Speaker John Boehner, Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan." And the "Daily Beast" reported that "the group "_ hosted a major fundraiser for Senate candidate Carly Fiorina."
In October 2010, "Variety" reported that "in the past two years it, too, has drawn national Republican leaders, most recently the conservative 'young guns' " Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan and Kevin McCarthy. Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, spoke earlier this year, but earned lukewarm reviews. But the group's mission, at least at the outset, has been as a fellowship, not a fund-raising entity. It also adheres to a key rule: no press coverage."
Is this the type of organization a Supreme Court judge should address and accept reimbursement of expenses from?
The same behavior by a lower court judge would probably draw an ethics complaint, and rightly so. The Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges prohibits federal judges from speaking at fundraisers, making "speeches for a political organization" or engaging "in any other political activity." And, while the Code is not binding on Supreme Court justices, Justices Kennedy and Breyer testified before Congress in 2011 that the Court has agreed internally to abide by its restrictions.
Justice Scalia's decision to give a speech for Friends of Abe, and to accept their reimbursement for his travel, food and lodging expenses, raises serious questions about inappropriate political activity and the appearance of political bias.
The group is also not exactly a model of transparency. If this "Friends of Abe, Inc." website is actually their webpage, it certainly appears as opaque as its been reported; nothing but an image of Lincoln and a password-protected login box.
Scalia's appearance before a politically charged and secretive organization reminds us of similar questionable conduct of Justices Scalia and Thomas in past years to make all-expenses-paid speaking trips to secretive Koch Industries political strategy retreats in southern California.
At this point, all that we know is that Justice Scalia spoke before this group and accepted reimbursement. We do not know what he said in his speech. Justice Scalia should make a copy of his remarks public and provide an explanation of why his conduct does not violate the spirit of the judicial Code of Conduct and demean our nation's highest court.
As Common Cause showed throughout the course of its Supreme Conflict research, Justices of the Supreme Court are not bound by the Code.
But they should be.
Common Cause legal interns Carrie James, Zachary Lobel and Kevin Paulsen assisted with the research in this post.
Office: Common Cause National
Issues: Money in Politics