Judge Antonin Scalia made a mistake when he went duck hunting in January with his old friend, Vice President Dick Cheney. The hunting trip came three weeks after the Supreme Court decided it would hear the vice president's appeal of a lower court ruling on his actions involving an energy policy task force. The case is expected to decide whether Cheney violated an open government measure when he met privately with lobbyists for the coal, gas, oil and nuclear industries.
While justices can't be expected to completely sever themselves from all social contacts the Louisiana duck hunting excursion went way beyond the line of appropriate judicial conduct. Scalia was flown as an official guest of Cheney on Air Force Two en route to a private hunting camp owned by Wallace Carline, an oil industry businessman. This wasn't casual social contact with a person involved in an upcoming case, such as a dinner party. This was a jet ride and a hunting trip that lasted a number of days.
Federal law says "any justice or judge shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might be questioned."
Justice Scalia said "I do not think my impartiality could reasonably be questioned."
In an aside that likely indicated Scalia's attitude toward the criticism of his decision he said the duck hunting was lousy but the birds tasted "swell."
Those who value an impartial judiciary take the incident more seriously. As one legal ethics expert opined, refraining from socializing with someone who has case coming up before a court shows a proper respect for maintaining the public's confidence in the integrity of the judicial progress.
Justice Scalia should reconsider and recuse himself from this case. That's the sort of judgment we expect our highest court.
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