Justice Scalia’s CLE
posted by Mike Dimino
I had the great privilege of attending the CLE that was the subject of this week’s ABC story. Justice Scalia led several of the discussions/lectures, a task which required him to be an active presenter for several hours each of the two days of the conference. Details of the conference are made clear in a letter Federalist Society President Gene Meyer wrote to the President of ABC News. I am floored that anyone thinks there is anything the least bit improper about Scalia’s attendance. Still more am I surprised that this passes as “investigative” reporting, given that the Federalist Society advertised Scalia’s attendance at the Conference and that the same was reported by the AP immediately after Chief Justice Roberts was sworn in.
Stephen Gillers, a professor at NYU, is quoted in the story as saying that Scalia should not have taken the trip for “several reasons,” including the Federalist Society’s “decided political-slash-judicial profile.” Few, if any, groups would fail to be disqualified from having a sitting judge speak to their members under this heretofore unheard-of test. Certainly the ABA and the ACLU have “decided political-slash-judicial profile[s]” and yet — properly — nobody has raised any question of the propriety of speaking to such audiences.
The public ultimately is much the better for groups’ opportunities to interact with Justices, barring extreme cases where the group in question is pursuing an ex parte contact in a case pending or about to be pending before the Court. This proposition, which has been accepted for decades if not forever, is all the more applicable for situations like the conference in question, because it was an opportunity for the participants to learn interactively about a subject interesting the Justice, as opposed to the more typical event where the Justice simply gives a speech.
Of course this is not the first time critics of Justices have fabricated ethical concerns as a way of encouraging opposition to Justices whose philosophies the critics oppose. Scalia himself was the target of such a campaign recently in the Cheney duck hunting episode, prompting criticism by Gillers among others, and ultimately resulting in Scalia’s release of an extraordinary memo defending his non-recusal in the case and pointing out that ethical rules had never before required refraining from the behavior for which he was being criticized. Similar questionable invocations of ethical concerns appear in the Haynsworth and Fortas confirmations, Fortas’s criticism perhaps less questionable than the others.