Fundraising Dinner Honoring Justice Stevens

by Ed Whelan

In my series (Parts 1, 2, and 3) a few weeks ago and my recent posts on Justice O’Connor, I’ve contrasted the Left’s feeble ethics charges against conservative justices with conduct by liberal justices that the Left has been happy to ignore. Here’s another stark example:

The Equal Justice Initiative—which describes itself as “a private, nonprofit organization that provides legal representation to indigent defendants and prisoners who have been denied fair and just treatment in the legal system”—will be holding its “2011 Benefit Dinner” on May 2 in New York City. According to a copy of the invitation I’ve received (update: here’s the invitation), that dinner will be “honoring Justice John Paul Stevens[,] United States Supreme Court.” You can be a “Platinum Sponsor” by making a “$25,000 Contribution,” a “Gold Sponsor” for $15,000, or a “Silver Sponsor” for $10,000. Or you can buy an individual ticket for $350.

Notwithstanding his retirement from active service on the Supreme Court, Justice Stevens remains a federal judge. (See point 2 here.) Indeed, the EJI invitation identifies him as “Justice John Paul Stevens” of the “United States Supreme Court” (and doesn’t note his retirement).

As this example illustrates, the Left has condemned conservative justices—especially, it would seem, Justice Alito—for speaking at, and even merely for attending, similar fundraisers for conservative nonprofit organizations. By contrast, the express purpose of the EJI fundraiser is “honoring Justice John Paul Stevens.” If there is a factual distinction, recognized by the Code of Conduct for United States Judges (which doesn’t formally apply to Supreme Court justices) or by other accepted ethics standards, that cuts meaningfully in favor of Stevens and against Alito, I don’t discern what that distinction is.

And, no, the fact that EJI defends those who in its judgment “have been denied fair and just treatment” does not make it somehow above politics, as that judgment itself will often involve highly politicized evaluations. Here’s just one of many statements on EJI’s website that indicate that it’s well on the Left:

During the last 30 years, mass incarceration policies have devastated poor and minority communities. Disenfranchisement of offenders and the erection of permanent barriers for employment and re-entry have created a growing underclass of largely poor people.

EJI is committed to challenging racially discriminatory policies, sentencing, and tactics that have made mass imprisonment a crisis in many communities of color.

Bench Memos

NRO’s home for judicial news and analysis.