Hours after considering challenges to health care reform, Supreme Court justices are honored at fundraiser sponsored by law firms representing reform opponents

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  • Dale Eisman

Hours after considering challenges to health care reform, Supreme Court justices are honored at fundraiser sponsored by law firms representing reform opponents

Thomas and Scalia’s speeches at Federalist Society dinner underscore need for ethics at the high court

Hours after considering whether to hear challenges to national health care reform, Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia were honored Thursday at a fundraiser sponsored in part by law firms engaged in the litigation. This is an apparent breach of ethical standards that apply to every other federal judge.

That morning, all nine justices met to review appeals from lower federal courts. Their agenda included a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, which the court announced today it would hear this term.

A few hours later, Scalia and Thomas were honorees and speakers at an annual fundraising dinner for the Federalist Society, which describes itself as “conservatives and libertarians interested” in the law.

Donors for the event included corporations like the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, which has a critical stake in the outcome of the health care litigation, as well as lawyers and law firms directly involved in bringing suits challenging the law.

According to the Code of Conduct for US Judges, which binds all other federal judges, “a judge may attend fundraising 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.”

“This stunning breech of ethics and indifference to the code belies claims by several justices that the Court abides by the same rules that apply all other federal judges,” said Common Cause President Bob Edgar. “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.”

The dinner program indicates that Justice Scalia was seated at a table with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. As keynote speaker for the society’s 2010 conference, McConnell told Federalist Society members: “I know I can count [on] the support of the Federalist Society in helping us in our challenges to this affront,” referring to the health care case.

Paul Clement, counsel for parties in the 11th Circuit case that challenged the law, sat at a table sandwiched between Scalia and Thomas, according to the program. His law firm, Bancroft PLLC, is listed as a “silver” sponsor of the dinner. Justice Samuel Alito, a past speaker, was also in attendance. The law firm Jones Day, another “silver” sponsor, is representing parties in another case challenging the law the Supreme Court agreed to hear today.