Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas panned a draft ethics rule that would dissuade judges from formally enrolling in ideological groups like the Federalist Society and its liberal counterpart, the American Constitution Society (ACS).
Speaking Friday night at a Federalist Society conference in Florida, Thomas suggested the proposal is an attempt to silence the conservative lawyers group. The proposed rule would also bind law clerks and staff attorneys.
“Now I think they’re about to silence the Federalist Society,” the justice said, according to remarks first reported by The Wall Street Journal. “So I guess I can’t come back.”
The proposed rule issued from the Committee on Codes of Conduct of the U.S. Judicial Conference, a panel of federal judges that publishes advisory opinions regarding judicial conduct issues. The committee said judicial membership in either ACS or the Federalist Society undermines public trust in the courts.
The panel said it relied on three longstanding principles to reach its conclusion: first, a judge’s law-related outside activity should concern general improvement of the law or legal system, rather than specific social, civic, or policy goals; second, judges should avoid organizations that might reasonably bring their impartiality into question; and third, judges should be sure that their involvement with a particular group could not reasonably be seen as an endorsement of its positions.
The proposed rule does not prohibit judges from participating in Federalist Society or ACS programming, such as moderating a panel discussion or delivering a speech. The committee concluded that those activities aren’t fairly construed as an endorsement of the host’s views and positions.
Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh have addressed the Federalist Society’s annual lawyers convention in recent years, while Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor have keynoted ACS meetings.
The advisory opinion also makes a veiled reference to the Federalist Society’s close proximity to the Trump administration, stating that “changing circumstances require judges to regularly reassess whether their involvement in extrajudicial activities related to the law is proper under the Code.”
Full story at Daily Caller.