Scalia Lectures Lawmakers - Behind Closed Doors

U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia speaks during debate at ACLU Membership Conference, Sunday Oct. 15, 2006 in Washington.
.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia speaks during debate at ACLU, Oct. 15, 2006 in Washington.
U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia plans to lecture lawmakers on the Constitution at a closed-door session late this afternoon. He was invited to make the remarks at the invitation of the Tea Party Caucus and its founder, Republican Rep. Michelle Bachmann.

The event has generated criticism from those who say it gives the appearance that the conservative Justice is "allied with a political faction," in the words of Common Cause president Bob Edgar. Common Cause has previously criticizedthe impartiality of Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas for their alleged ties to Koch Industries, which has spent millions on behalf of conservative candidates.

And the New York Times, in an editorial, called Scalia's appearance a "bad idea," writing that "[b]y presiding over this seminar, Justice Scalia would provide strong reasons to doubt his impartiality when he ruled later on any topic discussed there."

George Washington Law School professor Jonathan Turley, meanwhile, wrote in the Washington Post that the event, at worst, "smacks of a political alliance."

But M. Edward Whelan, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a former clerk to Scalia, said he believes the event passes muster. Speaking of Turley's criticism in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, he asked, "Does he think it's improper for any justice ever to speak to any group of members of Congress who might be perceived as sharing the same general political disposition?"

Separate from the appropriateness of Scalia's appearance, the fact that the media and public are being barred from the event has raised eyebrows. Asked why the event was being held behind closed doors, Bachmann spokesman Doug Sachtleben told Hotsheet, "We felt that it would give freer discourse between the members and the justice, especially during question and answer session."

Sachtleben stressed that the event is open to both parties and all ideologies. He said about 50 members had said they would attend, including multiple Democrats.

"We're not concerned that this is somehow going to remain a mystery," he said.

Scalia's appearance kicks off Bachmann's lecture series on the Constitution, which the conservative lawmaker has cast as "Conservative Constitutional Seminars." The Justice plans to discuss "separation of powers" in remarks that will center on both the Constitution and Declaration of Independence.

In announcing the event, Bachmann hailed Scalia as having "distinguished himself by his 'originalist' approach to constitutional interpretation."

Though the official GOP response to Tuesday's State of the Union address will be given by Rep. Paul Ryan, Bachmann plans to give a response of her own, which will be broadcast on a Tea Party website.