Imagine, in a wild hypothetical, that Justice Scalia had authorized the National Rifle Association to name an annual lecture series after him—the “Justice Antonin Scalia Distinguished Lecture Series on Guns and the Law”—and that Scalia appeared each year at the NRA-sponsored event to introduce the speaker. Such actions would seem, at best, highly problematic and would dwarf any of the ethics concerns that have actually been concocted against him: The NRA is an ideological litigant before the Supreme Court, and a reasonable member of the public might well perceive Scalia’s hypothetical actions as embracing the NRA and its causes. Such actions (which go far beyond merely speaking to a group) would be improper, it would seem, because they “reflect adversely on [his] impartiality” (under Canon 4 of the Code of Conduct for United States Judges), and they would likewise seem to require his disqualification (under 28 U.S.C. § 455(a)) from cases in which the NRA participates—and perhaps even from cases in which it doesn’t but that involve its declared causes—because his impartiality in such cases “might reasonably be questioned.”
Remarkably, although it somehow received very little media attention, this hypothetical was the reality for Justice Ginsburg. Specifically, as this Los Angeles Times article from 2004 discusses, Ginsburg authorized the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund to name a lecture series after her—the “Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Distinguished Lecture Series on Women and the Law”—and she “gave opening remarks” and introduced the speaker at the fourth installment of that series. The NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund took part (and, now rebranded as Legal Momentum, continues to take part) regularly in litigation before the Supreme Court: its database identifies its participation in a dozen or so merits cases during the first four years of the lecture series (including Lawrence v. Texas, Grutter v. Bollinger, and Gratz v. Bollinger), and a similar or higher level of participation in subsequent years (including Gonzales v. Carhart). Ginsburg took part in all those cases.
(I gather that the series was terminated at some point, but because of the media’s striking lack of interest in the story, I can’t tell when.) Update: The series was initially cosponsored by the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund and the New York City Bar Association (fka Association of the Bar of the City of New York), but it now is evidently sponsored entirely by the City Bar. (I can’t tell when the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund ended its cosponsorship.)
According to the LA Times article, legal ethicist Monroe Freedman said that Ginsburg’s affiliation with the lecture series “crosses the line,” and legal ethicist Geoffrey Hazard called it “inappropriate.” By contrast, legal ethicist Stephen Gillers called it “a judgment call.” For present purposes, I see no need to resolve whether Ginsburg acted unethically. My much more modest point is simply that nothing underlying even the wildest smears that the Left has directed against Thomas and Scalia comes anywhere close to Ginsburg’s conduct.