Justice Alito Flouts Ethical Standards

Oops, They’re Doing It Again: Another Supreme Court Justice Flouts Ethical Standards

Alito Speaks at Federalist Society Fundraiser, Following in Ethically-Challenged Footsteps of Scalia and Thomas

WASHINGTON, D.C., Nov. 16 – For the second year in a row, a justice of the Supreme Court has flouted judicial ethics by headlining a fundraising gala for a lawyers group, the Alliance for Justice and Common Cause said Friday.

Justice Samuel Alito was a featured speaker at the “30thAnniversary Gala Dinner” of the Federalist Society on Thursday night. Alito’s appearance was the drawing card for the $175-dollar-a-plate event, the society’s website indicates.

Were Justice Alito sitting on any lower federal court, his appearance would violate Canon 4C of the Code of Conduct for federal judges. That canon explicitly bans federal judges from being featured speakers and guests of honor at fundraising events. The code does not formally apply to the Supreme Court however.

Last year, Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia spoke at the same Federalist Society fundraising event. The annual dinners attract a crowd of more than 1,200 lobbyists, judges and lawyers, including some with high-profile cases before the court. Attendees at Thursday’s dinner, for example, included at least three lawyers involved in cases challenging the constitutionality of the federal Voting Rights Act. Their Washington-based firm, Wiley Rein LLP, was a “silver” sponsor.

Justice Alito has become a regular at such functions, having previously spoken at fundraising events for the American Spectator magazine and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. The Institute describes itself as working for “limited government, individual liberty, personal responsibility, the rule of law, market economy and moral norms.”

Alliance for Justice President Nan Aron noted that a 2012 Hart Research Associates poll conducted for AFJ found that only 41% of Americans approve of the job the Supreme Court is doing. “If the public begins to believe that the justices are just politicians in robes, their credibility will further erode.

“In his 2011 Annual Report, Chief Justice John Roberts claimed that ‘All members of the Court do in fact consult the Code of Conduct in assessing their ethical obligations,'” Aron said. “But it is clear that they are free to routinely ignore that guidance. That’s why guidance is not enough. Either the justices should formally agree to abide by the Code or Congress should require it.”

“The words ‘Equal Justice Under Law,’ are carved into the marble above the entrance to the Supreme Court,” said Common Cause President Bob Edgar, “but it’s clear that when it comes to judicial ethics, some members of the court consider themselves better than equal to the rest of the federal judiciary. Their refusal to embrace and abide by the Code of Conduct is disturbing.”

Edgar and Aron emphasized that addressing an organization like the Federalist Society is not, in itself, a breach of ethics. The ethical line is crossed when the justice’s appearance is used to raise money for the organization.

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