Common Cause Asks DOJ to Investigate Possible Conflict of Interest With Scalia and Thomas

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The public advocacy group Common Cause sent a letter to the Justice Department today to investigate whether or not Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas should have recused themselves from the infamous Citizens’ United ruling last year. This week marks the one year anniversary of the landmark 5-4 court ruling that gave corporations the green light to flood political campaigns with as much cash as they choose.

But could the case be overturned due to impartiality on behalf of a few Justices? Common Cause hopes so. President and CEO of Common Cause, Bob Edgar, released the following statement today on the possible conflict of interest:

“Common Cause, which I’m privileged to lead, has asked the Justice Department to investigate whether Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas should have recused themselves from the landmark Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission case last year because they may have attended secret retreats where lobbying and political strategies were developed by some of the biggest players in the 2010 elections.

A year ago this week, Scalia and Thomas supplied critical votes in the 5-4 Citizens United decision that was of particular importance to two politically active billionaire brothers, Charles and David Koch. Charles Koch, president of Koch Industries, the nation’s second largest privately-held firm, and brother David have spent tens and perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars over the years on conservative political activism. The Koch-sponsored group Americans for Prosperity has been critical to development of the Tea Party; it promised last year to spend $45 million on the Congressional midterm elections.”

As Lee Fang from Think Progress has extensively covered, Scalia and Thomas have been featured speakers at Koch-sponsored events over the last few years. At these meetings, the attendees and speakers discussed ideas to fund conservative front groups, political campaigns, and conservative media. Also in attendance were captains of industry from across America, as well as numerous folks from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Fang had the rare opportunity to perform an on the spot interview with David Koch recently, where he was unable to answer a question about the Citizens’ United ruling.

The Koch-Scalia-Thomas connection is what Common Cause says is the biggest conflict of interest in the case. Edgar’s release continues:

“The ruling prompted a flood of corporate spending on the 2010 midterms, the “unprecedented level of support” celebrated in Charles Koch’s letter. The non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics reports that corporations and other “independent” donors put nearly $300 million into contests for the House and Senate; tens, perhaps hundreds of millions more went into races for governor and state legislatures.

More than $135 million of this money came from organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that aren’t required to disclose their donors. And the lion’s share went to candidates who share the Kochs’ distaste for government regulation of businesses.”

The conservative connections of the Supreme Court go even deeper, as Fang has reported that even Justice Samuel Alito has attended a right wing gathering put on by The American Spectator.

If there is one thing that the Republicans are very good at, its packing the courts. For example, the first judge in the country to strike down part of the healthcare reform law – Judge Henry Hudson – has worked directly with every Republican administration in the last 3 decades. While the Citizens’ United challenge from Common Cause is definitely a great start, it highlights the overall problem with the conservative judiciary in America – A problem that, if left unchecked, will give corporations and GOP insiders like the Kochs a safe haven from legal responsibility.

Farron Cousins is the executive editor of The Trial Lawyer magazine, and his articles have appeared on The Huffington Post, Alternet, and The Progressive Magazine. He has worked for the Ring of Fire radio program with hosts Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Mike Papantonio, and Sam Seder since August 2004, and is currently the co-host and producer of the program. He also currently serves as the co-host of Ring of Fire on Free Speech TV, a daily program airing nightly at 8:30pm eastern. Farron received his bachelor's degree in Political Science from the University of West Florida in 2005 and became a member of American MENSA in 2009.  Follow him on Twitter @farronbalanced.

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