Bench Memos

Baseless Ethics Accusations Dismissed

Last month, liberal attack dogs Common Cause and Alliance for Justice convinced Representative Slaughter to join them in a baseless attack on Justice Thomas’s and Seventh Circuit Judge Diane Sykes’ ethics. The effort was a blatant hack job, so frivolous that it was recently rejected by the chief judge of the Seventh Circuit as just that. Chief Judge Diane Wood (a short-lister for each of President Obama’s Supreme Court nominations), dismissed the complaint as either “lack[ing] any factual foundation or . . . conclusively refuted by objective evidence.”
 
As Chief Judge Wood’s two-page dismissal indicates, the allegations were easily refuted. Representative Slaughter’s press release cited a provision in the federal judges’ code of conduct that forbids judges serving as “a speaker, a guest of honor, or featured on the program” of a fundraising event. But Justice Thomas and Judge Sykes could not possibly violate this provision by speaking at the Federalist Society dinner because it is not a fundraising event. The event is not designed to raise money, has never been advertised as a fundraiser, and in fact costs more to put on than it brings in in ticket prices.  
 
These baseless accusations are all the more absurd when viewed in contrast to the American Constitution Society, a liberal group that aspires to replicate the Federalist Society’s success but from the opposite philosophical perspective. That organization also regularly has Supreme Court Justices speak at its conferences. Last year retired Justice John Paul Stevens spoke. The previous year it was (active) Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The speaker list includes a host of other federal judges. And their sponsor list includes corporations and law firms, many of which are the same ones who have sponsored the Federalist Society’s conference. If speaking at an event with corporate or law-firm sponsors actually did violate ethical rules, it would implicate judges across the spectrum, not only Justice Thomas and Judge Sykes.
 
This crude personal attack is disappointing, both for its partisan nature and its reckless disregard of the absence of any factual basis for its harmful allegations against two federal judges. Unfortunately, at least one respectable media outlet parroted these accusations, lending them credibility. I trust they will put forth equal effort in rehabilitating the maligned judges.
Carrie Severino is chief counsel and policy director to the Judicial Crisis Network.

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