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Jordan launches inquiry on guidance telling judges to avoid groups like Federalist Society

FOX News logo FOX News 5/18/2020 Ronn Blitzer
Jim Jordan wearing glasses and smiling at the camera © Provided by FOX News

House Judiciary Committee ranking member Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, is launching an investigation into a draft advisory opinion by the Judicial Conference’s Committee on Codes of Conduct which, if approved, would prohibit federal judges from being members of the right-leaning Federalist Society or left-wing American Constitution Society (ACS).

Jordan’s concern with the draft advisory opinion is that membership in these groups had previously been allowed, and while under the draft opinion this would no longer be allowed, membership in other groups including the American Bar Association (ABA) would continue to be permitted. The committee said their concern with the Federalist Society and ACS is that membership could lead to people questioning a judge’s impartiality when it comes to issues on which those groups have taken positions.

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“The draft advisory opinion discriminates against the viewpoints of members of the judiciary who chose to associate with the Federalist Society,” Jordan said in a letter to the Office of the General Counsel for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts obtained by Fox News. Jordan noted that more than 200 federal judges and close to 30 members of Congress had expressed concerns over it.

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Fox News reached out to the office of House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., for comment but they did not immediately respond.

The opinion stated that “[o]fficial affiliation with either organization could convey to a reasonable person that the affiliated judge endorses the views and particular ideological perspectives advocated by the organization; call into question the affiliated judge’s impartiality on subjects as to which the organization has taken a position; and generally frustrate the public’s trust in the integrity and independence of the judiciary.”

The Federalist Society has amassed significantly more power than the liberal ACS, particularly as its co-chairman Leonard Leo has had President Trump's ear on judicial nominations. The organization describes itself as a counterbalance to "orthodox liberal ideology" and a group for "conservatives and libertarians" interested in "reordering priorities within the legal system," but Jordan pointed out that the ABA is arguably more politically active despite its apolitical mission statement.

Jordan mentioned this among what he said were “concerns about the biases and motivations” of those who crafted the draft advisory opinion.

“The ABA has openly advocated for liberal causes and directly engaged in cases or controversies before federal courts, even filing amicus briefs in high-profile Supreme Court appeals,” Jordan wrote, adding that the ABA also lobbies Congress and rates judicial nominees. “In comparison, the Federalist Society does not directly engage in matters before the federal judiciary.”

The draft advisory opinion acknowledged that some ABA positions “could reasonably be viewed to favor liberal or progressive causes,” the committee feels that the organization’s overall mission is not one that would cause concern that members would be impartial.

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Jordan is now calling on the Office of the General Counsel to provide information regarding whether the committee unanimously supported the draft advisory opinion, why they felt the need to issue the new draft advisory opinion, “all drafts prepared, considered, or exchanged by the Committee,” as well as “all minutes, notes, or other memorialization of all meetings” having to do with it, and any information as to whether members of the committee are members of the Federalist Society, ACS, or ABA.

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