The liberal group Common Cause asks the Justice Department to
investigate whether Supreme Court Justices Scalia and Thomas should
have stepped aside in a major campaign finance reform case a year
The liberal advocacy group Common Cause announced on Thursday
that it has asked the Justice Department to investigate whether two
US Supreme Court justices should have recused themselves from
consideration of a major campaign finance reform case last year.
Common Cause President Bob Edgar said the group has asked
Attorney General Eric Holder to examine whether Justices Antonin
Scalia and Clarence Thomas should have stepped aside rather than
vote in the Citizens United case.
The case, handed down a year ago on Friday (Jan. 21), struck down
a portion of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law that
had barred corporate expenditures for political advertisements
during campaign season.
Reform advocates denounced the ruling as opening the way for a
flood of corporate money and corporate influence in US politics.
Supporters of the decision praised it as recognizing that corporate
officials have a free speech right to engage in public discussion of
political issues of importance to the company.
Mr. Edgar said the justices were featured speakers at invitation-
only retreats sponsored by Koch Industries, a private company whose
officials have played an active role supporting Republican
candidates and conservative causes.
He also said Justice Thomas may have had an undisclosed financial
conflict of interest through his wife's work as founder and CEO of a
conservative advocacy group, Liberty Central. Edgar said the group
stood to benefit from the Citizens United decision through easier
fundraising and easier political spending. [Ms. Thomas has since
stepped down as CEO of the group.]
Request to 'vacate the judgment'
"Common Cause hereby formally requests that the Justice
Department promptly investigate whether Justices Thomas and Scalia
should have recused themselves from the Citizens United case," Edgar
wrote in a Jan. 19 letter to Holder. "If the department finds
sufficient grounds for disqualification of either justice, we
request that the solicitor general file a ... motion with the full
Supreme Court seeking to vacate the judgment."
Such action would be highly unusual. Under Supreme Court
practice, it is left to each justice to determine whether the
justice's "impartiality might reasonably be questioned."
Implicit in the Common Cause allegations is a suggestion that
Scalia and Thomas may have been influenced to vote in a certain way
that would favor corporations like Koch Industries or its corporate