Guilt by Innuendo
Justice Scalia was apparently unchastened by the criticism of his 2004 duck-hunting excursion with Vice President Dick Cheney, one of that term's most prominent Supreme Court litigants. Last September, he skipped the swearing-in of Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. because of another ethically dubious trip, this time to the posh Ritz-Carlton at the Beaver Creek ski resort in Colorado.
He was there to teach a 10-hour seminar over a couple of days for a conservative group, the Federalist Society. "Nightline" recently reported that the gig had left Justice Scalia plenty of time for tennis, fly-fishing and socializing with seminar participants, some of whom may have business before the Supreme Court. One Federalist Society cocktail reception was sponsored in part by the lobbying and law firm that used to employ Jack Abramoff, Tom DeLay's convicted pal and benefactor for golf trips.
Justice Scalia's travel is part of a broader affliction on the federal bench. The Los Angeles Times reported in 2004, for example, that Justice Clarence Thomas had accepted thousands of dollars in gifts in recent years, including an $800 leather jacket, a $1,200 set of tires from Nascar and an extravagant vacation from a conservative activist. Federal judges below the Supreme Court level accept dozens of free vacations each year from well-heeled special interests under the guise of "judicial education."
The judicial lobbying problem is more serious in one respect than the scandal enveloping Congress. Lawmakers operate in an overtly political environment, but the decision-making process of judges is supposed to be impermeable to clever efforts by special interests to buy access and favor.
Three Democratic senators with a longstanding concern about this problem — Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Russell Feingold of Wisconsin and John Kerry of Massachusetts — are readying provisions to ban junkets and other compromising gifts for judges, which they hope to make part of their party's lobbying reform proposal. For Congress to pass a lobbying reform bill that curbs inappropriate perks for lawmakers but not for federal judges would be a scandal in itself.