Justice Clarence Thomas' Newest Ethics Breach
November 15, 2013

Justice Thomas has once again graced the Federalist Society with his presence for their annual fundraiser, without shame or apology, along with fellow justices Alito and Scalia. In their minds, this is perfectly fine for them to do because they have cheerfully waived the ethics rules other judges must abide by.

Justice Thomas was to be "interviewed" by another federal judge who is subject to the ethics rules, and who now faces a formal ethics complaint as a consequence of her appearance.

Rep. Louise Slaughter has been on this issue for a long time. Her office issued a press release yesterday explaining the ethics issues:

Canon 4C of the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges bars federal judges from using the prestige of their judicial office for fundraising purposes, and specifically states, “a judge may not be a speaker, a guest of honor, or featured on the program” of a fundraising event.

The Code of Conduct is binding on all federal judges except for Supreme Court justices. However, Chief Justice Roberts claimed in his 2011 year-end report that the code “plays the same role” for the Supreme Court as it does for other federal judges, and other justices have said that they follow it.

“By headlining this fundraiser, Judge Sykes is clearly in violation of the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges and Justice Thomas would be as well – if only the Supreme Court was bound by an ethical code,” Rep. Slaughter said. “The guidelines contained in the Code exist to ensure the public has faith that judicial decision-making is based on the facts and the law, not politics and outside interests. Congress must act to ensure the Supreme Court plays by the same ethical rules as all other federal judges.”

“Justice Thomas is among several members of the high court who’ve made a habit of flouting judicial ethics by headlining Federalist Society fundraisers,” said Arn Pearson, Common Cause’s vice president for policy and litigation. “He gets away with it because the Court has exempted itself from the Code, but that doesn’t make it right. Our nation’s highest court should not have the lowest ethical standards. However, that loophole does not extend to Judge Sykes, so we have filed a formal ethics complaint with the Seventh Circuit.”

Justice Thomas' ties to the Federalist Society transcend the usual boundaries of ideology. TPM reported on their close ties back in 2010:

But Thomas will have help from some Republican players with a rather more inside-the-Beltway profile. Leonard Leo, a top official with the Federalist Society, is a director of the new group, according to business records kept by the state of Virginia, and reviewed by TPMmuckraker.

In a 1995 speech to the Federalist Society, Clarence Thomas, a member of the society, described Leo as "my good friend." A prominent conservative legal scholar and activist, Leo played a key role in successfully shepherding the Supreme Court nominations of John Roberts and Samuel Alito through the Senate confirmation process.

Neither Virginia Thomas nor Leonard Leo responded to TPMmuckraker's requests for comment.

That was 2010. Since then, Ginni Thomas' connections to conservative activists have mushroomed. She works behind the scenes to influence legislation, does interviews for Tucker Carlson's rag, and serves as the lobbying arm for wealthy Texas billionaires.

Leonard Leo, by the way, was the guy who played an instrumental role in getting Alito and Scalia nominated to the Supreme Court. No conflict of interest there, eh?

Enforceable ethical constraints need to placed upon Supreme Court Justices just as they are on other judges. Nomination to the United States Supreme Court doesn't mean one has magically become impervious to corrupting forces. The fact that these three justices lend the weight of their position to fundraising efforts while one of their spouses profits handsomely from the very same groups that support those organizations is evidence of a need to place some rules around their activities.

For their part, the Federalist Society says the dinner isn't a fundraiser at all, that it's actually a loss leader for their convention. That's not really believable, given the amount of money

Add your name to those of us who believe it's past time for Justice Thomas, his activist spouse, and Supreme Court justices to be constrained by the same ethics rules that constrain every other federal judge by signing Rep. Slaughter's petition.

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