Last month, Rep. Louise Slaughter, Common Cause, and the Alliance for Justice filed an ethics complaint against Judge Diane Sykes of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit claiming that she had violated the Code of Conduct for federal judges by speaking at the annual dinner of the Federalist Society. A similar complaint, in the form of a letter to the Chief Justice, was lodged against Justice Clarence Thomas who also spoke at this year’s convention dinner. This complaint is one of a series of frivolous ethics charges made against conservative jurists over the years, including prior complaints about judges or justices speaking at annual dinners of right-leaning organizations or claims that conservative justices need to recuse themselves from high-profile cases because they or their relatives are conservative. The complaining groups claim to have a non-partisan concern for judicial ethics, and yet never complain when liberal justices engage in precisely the same conduct.
On December 5, the Seventh Circuit’s Chief Judge, Diane Wood, dismissed the complaint against Judge Sykes. Judge Wood ‘s opinion made quick work of the charges, concluding that “the allegations in the Complaint ‘lack any factual foundation or are conclusively refuted by objective evidence.'” She further noted that judges speak to equivalent gatherings of lawyers all the time without anyone raising a fuss. I would like to think this opinion would put an end to the filing of frivolous and partisan ethics complaints of this sort, but I would not bet on it.