Kavanaugh’s attendance at right-wing holiday party raises new ethics concerns

The justice attended a party with former Trump administration adviser Stephen Miller, whose legal organization has interests in at least one case the court is deliberating.

Just days after a former evangelical activist testified before Congress about the ease with which he and his associates lobbied right-wing U.S. Supreme Court justices, Politico reported that Justice Brett Kavanaugh attended a private holiday party with a number of high-profile conservatives, sparking alarm among ethics watchdogs.

The news outlet reported over the weekend that Kavanaugh attended a party Friday night at the home of Matt Schlapp, chairman of the Conservative Political Action Coalition (CPAC). Other attendees included former Trump administration officials Alexander Acosta, Sebastian Gorka, and Stephen Miller.

Miller is also the founder of the America First Legal Foundation, which submitted a brief to the court in the case of Moore v. Harper, supporting North Carolina legislators’ efforts to reinstate a gerrymandered congressional map under “independent state legislature” theory.

“Is that ethical?” asked Accountable.US Tuesday after Bloomberg also reported on Kavanaugh’s attendance at the party.

The news comes weeks after the New York Times published a bombshell report in which Rev. Robert Schenck, the former head of right-wing group Faith and Action, alleged that Justice Samuel Alito had leaked at least one Supreme Court decision to Schenck’s associates and that the pastor’s group had sought access to conservative justices at events.

The day before Kavanaugh attended the party, Schenck testified at a House Judiciary Committee hearing that his associates would regularly “‘adopt’ a designated Justice (with their spouse, if applicable), first as a prayer concern, then as possible conversation partners, and ultimately as familiar acquaintances, if not friends.” He told lawmakers that Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. has presided over a “more relaxed, less guarded atmosphere inside the Court” which has made it easier to gain access to justices.

The Times report and Schenck’s testimony has sparked intensified demands that the court adhere to a binding ethics code, as all other federal courts do.

“The Supreme Court is compromised, and our rights are at risk,” said advocacy group Demand Justice in an ad released Monday featuring Schenck’s testimony. “It’s time to reform the court.”

A Gallup poll released in September showed that only 47% of U.S. adults had trust in the judiciary—plummeting 20 points in just two years.

Kavanaugh’s decision to attend a party alongside people who “live, eat, and breathe conservative political action” indicates either insensitivity or indifference to the public’s perception of the court’s ability to be impartial, Indiana University law professor Charles Geyh told Bloomberg.

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Julia Conley is a Common Dreams staff writer.

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