Bench Memos

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Judge Boyle and Alleged Conflicts of Interest


I have not yet had occasion to explore the instances in which Fourth Circuit nominee Terry Boyle is alleged to have violated federal ethics rules.  Those rules should of course be followed.  But it is essential to have in mind both that (1) those rules are in some respects (especially with regard to de minimis financial holdings) overprotective—i.e., they prohibit lots of innocent conduct that does not remotely present a genuine possibility of conflict of interest; and (2) innocent, inadvertent violations of those rules do not fairly call into question a judge’s integrity.


On this second point, let me note that the Associated Press reported on July 10, 1997, that “Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg may have violated a federal law 21 times since 1995 by participating in cases involving companies in which her husband owned stock.”  I am no admirer of Ginsburg’s judging, but I have never contended that these apparent violations of the same provision that Boyle is alleged to have violated call her integrity into question.  I trust that they were inadvertent and that the stock holdings did not affect her votes.  Absent evidence to the contrary, Judge Boyle’s critics should treat him similarly—and Senate Republicans should push for Boyle’s confirmation.


Senator Leahy, however, has taken a different view:  “Whether or not it turns out that Judge Boyle broke federal law or canons of judicial ethics, these types of conflicts of interest have no place on the federal bench.”  I await his call for Ginsburg to resign.

Tags: Whelan


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