Improving the Ethics of the Supreme Court

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March 13, 2011; Source: Washington Post | The Alliance for Justice's Nan Aron has some important concerns to raise about the appearance of Supreme Court justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas at the political strategy confabs of the Koch brothers, and it's not about their conservative politics.

According to Aron, it's perfectly fine for the Supremes to speak at educational conferences and seminars sponsored by nonprofits with strong points of view such as the Heritage Foundation, the Federalist Society, or the ACLU. Informing, educating, lecturing about the law, even from disparate ideological perspectives, is perfectly OK for the justices.

But in the Code of Conduct for Supreme Court Justices, Canon 5 bans involvement in "political activity" and Canon 4 in "fund-raising activities" of any kind. The events being sponsored by the Koch brothers are pretty clearly engaged in political activity, not just ideologically tinged discussions tapping Scalia and Thomas for their perspectives and experience.

But who is going to police either the justices or the politicking (c)(4) organizations? Groups that used to advocate and lobby – entirely legal and expected of nonprofits – but now engage in electioneering under the guise of Citizens United-abetted and -energized (c)(4)s, are making the lines between the appropriate and the inappropriate hard to define.—Rick Cohen