New Documents Expose Judicial Influence Buying at Federalist Society’s Annual Gala

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  • Dale Eisman

Another member of the Supreme Court, Justice Samuel Alito, has donned ethical blinders to help raise money for the Federalist Society, an association of conservative lawyers, Common Cause said today.

Alito was the honoree and speaker for the Federalist Society’s 2012 Gala. The group’s 2012 annual report, distributed to reporters this week, includes a photo of Alito and Federalist executives taken at the dinner; the shot supplements a headline reading “Donors Fuel Federalist Society Expansion” and a lengthy list of five- and six-figure donors to the society.

“Their annual report demolishes the Federalists’ claim that the gala is not a fundraiser,” said Arn Pearson, Common Cause’s vice president for policy and litigation. “And at this week’s Federalist gala, some of the society’s biggest donors were rewarded with dinner seats alongside Justices Clarence Thomas and Alito, while others were prominently listed in the gala program as ‘Gold,’ ‘Silver,’ and ‘Bronze’ sponsors. If the Federalists aren’t raising money off the gala, they need a new business manager.”

Common Cause on Thursday complained to Chief Justice John Roberts about Justice Thomas’ role as a Federalist fundraiser; the group said it will make a similar complaint about Alito. The Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges strictly limits participation in fundraising by all other federal judges, but the Supreme Court has refused to be bound by the Code and its canons.

Thomas was the featured speaker at Thursday night’s annual Federalist Gala. This year’s event was a $200 per plate, black tie dinner with a blue chip list of corporate and law firm sponsors.

Along with Thomas, the gala featured U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Diane Sykes, whose friendly “interview” with the justice capped off the evening. Common Cause, the Alliance for Justice and U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-NY, filed a formal complaint against Judge Sykes, saying her involvement in the fundraising event violated Canons 2(b) and 4(c) of the Code of Conduct.

“The continued involvement of Justices Alito and Thomas in Federalist fundraisers, and the refusal of Chief Justice Roberts and other members of the high court to recognize the Code of Conduct as binding, makes a compelling case for congressional approval of the Supreme Court Ethics Act of 2013,” Pearson said.

The Ethics Act, which has been introduced in both the House and Senate, would order the Supreme Court to adopt a formal code of ethics that includes all the canons of the code now imposed on other judges, plus any amendments the high court considers appropriate.

For more background on the Federalist Gala and the involvement of Justices Thomas and Alito, see Common Blog.