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Kavanaugh parties with the far right
Matt Schlapp is a far-right operative who wears many hats. He is chairman of the American Conservative Union (ACU), one of the nation's most powerful right-wing advocacy organizations. Schlapp also runs the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) events, large gatherings featuring political extremists and conspiracy theorists like Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell, and former White House chief strategist (and convicted felon) Steve Bannon. Schlapp also runs his own lobbying firm, Cove Strategies, although he lost many of his corporate clients following his vitriolic attacks on the Black Lives Matter movement.
And last Friday night, Schlapp hosted a holiday party.
In the world of political influence, parties are a way of demonstrating your stature. You can show your power by your ability to get other powerful people to show up. So it's not enough to host the party. Afterward, someone has to leak the attendees to the media. The guests at Schlapp's party were leaked to Politico:
— SPOTTED at Matt and Mercy Schlapp’s annual Christmas party at their Alexandria home on Friday night: Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and Ginger Gaetz, Sean Spicer, Alex Acosta, Sebastian Gorka, Stephen and Katie Miller, Chad Wolf, Greta Van Susteren and John Coale, Laura Schlapp and Bryan Wells, Brendan Carr, Rep.-elect George Santos (R-N.Y.), Erin and Nick Perrine, Erik Prince, Ziad Ojakli, Peter Davidson, Steve Holland and Ben Terris.
The fact that Justice Kavanaugh's name is listed first is not an accident. Getting a Supreme Court Justice to drop by is a coup.
At the party, Kavanaugh was joined by guests that have business before the Supreme Court. Stephen Miller, a former advisor to Trump with an affinity for white nationalists, currently runs America First Legal — an organization involved in several cases currently pending before Kavanaugh and the other members of the Supreme Court., the author of Law Dork, detailed the Supreme Court cases that America First Legal is actively involved in:
America First Legal filed an amicus brief on its own behalf in the Harvard race-conscious admissions case, another amicus brief on its own behalf in the Alabama Voting Rights Act case, and — wait for it — an amicus brief on its own behalf in the “independent state legislature” case, argued just two days before the party. The group is also counsel to a group of lawmakers, led by Sen. Ted Cruz, who filed an amici brief that same day, Dec. 7, in a big tech case involving Section 230 liability immunity that the court granted earlier this fall and will be hearing in the new year.
Similarly, the ACU has been involved in several Supreme Court cases with Kavanaugh on the bench. The group submitted a brief in 2020 supporting Oracle in its copyright battle with Google. (A company Schlapp also represents as a federal lobbyist.) In 2021, the ACU filed at least five amicus briefs, including one in a case on sentencing reductions for crack-cocaine offenders and another in a case on seizing guns from high-risk individuals.
If Kavanaugh was a judge in any other federal court, his attendance at Schlapp's party might have violated Cannon 2 of the Code of Conduct for United States Judges. Specifically, Kavanaugh is permitting Schlapp and others to, at a minimum, "convey the impression" that they have special access.
A judge should neither lend the prestige of the judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others nor convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge.
The Code of Conduct for United States Judges, however, does not apply to members of the Supreme Court. The lack of formal ethical guidelines for the Supreme Court is one of the reasons why public trust in the institution is rapidly declining.
Dinner at the Alitos
Kavanaugh's extracurricular activities come at a time of increasing concern about the relationship between Supreme Court Justices and right-wing activists seeking to influence the court.
In the 2014 case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the craft store argued that it had the right to exclude birth control from its healthcare plan under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Reverend Robert Schenck, a former anti-abortion activist who headed the group Faith and Action until 2018, told the New York Times last month that he learned the result of Hobby Lobby weeks in advance of its public release by the court.
In a letter from Schenck to Chief Justice John Roberts, Schenck claims that, in June 2014, he was "informed by a donor to the Capitol Hill-based non-profit organization I led that she and her husband would be dining at the home of Justice and Mrs. Alito." The donor, Gayle Wright, suggested "that in their table conversation, she might be able to learn the status of the [Hobby Lobby] case." After the dinner, the donor called him and shared that the majority opinion in the case would be favorable to Hobby Lobby and written by Alito.
Schenck says he ultimately shared this intelligence, which proved correct, with the president of Hobby Lobby, Steve Green. Schenck said he was interested in information about the case because he thought it could help him recruit Green as a donor.
The New York Times "found a trail of contemporaneous emails and conversations that strongly suggested [Schenck] knew the outcome and the author of the Hobby Lobby decision before it was made public." Wright and her husband watched the oral arguments in the Hobby Lobby case from "seats in the courtroom reserved for guests of Justices Scalia and Alito." In an email to Schenck, Wright referred to Scalia and Alito as "Nino and Sam."
Alito confirmed he had dinner with the Wrights, but denies he shared information about the Hobby Lobby case.
The Wrights became friends with Alito and other Justices at Schenck's urging. Schenck said he encouraged wealthy donors like Wright "to invite some of the justices to meals, to their vacation homes or to private clubs." He also "advised allies to contribute money to the Supreme Court Historical Society and then mingle with justices at its functions." The Wrights made large donations and became trustees. This influence campaign was known as "Operation Higher Court."
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Congressman Hank Johnson (D-GA) have introduced legislation that would require the Supreme Court "to adopt a binding code of conduct, and mandate the Supreme Court adopt more robust rules governing disclosure of gifts and travel paid for by outside parties." The legislation would "also require disclosure of the identity of funders of amicus briefs, and block amicus filers from making gifts or providing travel to court of appeals judges or Supreme Court justices."