Legal Ethics

Blogger Loudly Questions Alito’s Dinner Attendance, Tapes Irate Security Guard

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Updated: A Think Progress blogger has loudly questioned Justice Samuel A. Alito’s attendance at an American Spectator fund-raising dinner—and received an irate response from a security guard.

Blogger Lee Fang asserts that the American Spectator is a right-wing magazine and its publisher leads a “secretive group of conservatives” who seek to elect Republicans and block President Obama’s judicial appointments. Writing at Think Progress, Fang says he raised the issue with Alito himself.

“As Alito entered the event last night,” Fang wrote, “I approached the justice and asked him why he thought it appropriate to attend a highly political fundraiser with the chairman of the Republican Party, given Alito’s position on the court. Alito appeared baffled, and replied, ‘It’s not important that I’m here.’ ‘But,’ I said, ‘you also helped headline this same event two years ago, obviously helping to raise political money as the keynote.’ Alito replied curtly, ‘It’s not important,’ before walking away from me.”

After the event, Fang followed the justice and shouted his questions—this time with a videotape rolling. A security guard threatened him with arrest.

Constitutional Law Prof Blog notes the confrontation and cites the Code of Conduct for United States Judges. The code says judges should not personally participate in fund-raising activities, solicit funds, or use the prestige of their office for that purpose. Exceptions are allowed for nonprofit law-related, civic, charitable, educational, religious or social organizations. The blog post, written by CUNY law professor Ruthann Robson, concludes that the ethics issue may turn on when an event becomes a “fund-raising activity” or a solicitation of funds.

An updated version of the Constitutional Law Prof post points out that the judicial conduct code does not apply to Supreme Court justices, however. “Given that this rule is not strictly applicable, perhaps the ethical consequences turn on even more ambiguous—and unwritten—standards,” Robson writes.

Updated at 5:08 a.m. on Nov. 12 to include information from the updated post at Constitutional Law Prof blog.

Additional coverage:

Legal Ethics Forum: “Justice Alito at the Bartley Dinner: much ado about nothing?”

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