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Common Cause Attacks Supreme Court Justices, Dissembles

4:00 PM, Jan 20, 2011 • By DANIEL HALPER
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The New York Times runs a story today based on what appears to be an obviously frivolous petition filed at the Justice Department by the partisan left-wing activist group Common Cause. The group alleges that Justices Scalia and Thomas, by virtue of their appearance at a seminar held in Palm Springs by the libertarian Koch brothers, created a conflict of interest for themselves that should disqualify their votes in the Citizens United case. The New York Times reported:

Still unknown, for instance, is exactly when Justices Scalia and Thomas appeared before the group for its invitation-only retreat, which is aimed at promoting political strategies for economic freedom, or whether they were reimbursed for their expenses.

Common Cause said in its petition to the Justice Department that if either of the justices appeared before Mr. Koch’s group between 2008 and 2010, when the court was considering aspects of the Citizens United case, “it would certainly raise serious issues of the appearance of impropriety and bias.”

Ben Smith reports that, in fact, the justices attended the event long before the Supreme Court was considering any aspect of the Citizens United case. Moreover, their expenses were covered by the Federalist Society, the conservative legal group that has a branch on nearly every law school campus in the country. The president of the Federalist Society, Gene Meyer, tells Smith, "The idea that he would even have heard of the suit at that stage is slim." But Common Cause president Bob Edgar was more than happy to move the goal posts, telling Smith: "It doesn’t change our argument that Scalia was there before Citizens United was filed," he said. "We think it could have laid the groundwork for a conflict of interest."

But it did change their argument. A few hours after Ben Smith's report, Common Cause held a conference call with reporters and revealed new research!

Today, Common Cause lawyer Arn Pearson said research has revealed that Scalia attended a 2007 Koch conference and Thomas went in 2008, both apparently in the Palm Springs, California area. Pearson said the justices' financial disclosure reports for those years did not disclose any travel or lodging reimbursements by Koch. But both Scalia and Thomas indicated they were reimbursed for trips to California by the conservative Federalist Society around the dates when the Koch retreats may have occurred, Pearson stated.

And thus a "good government group" retreats ignominiously.

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