Wiretapping Judge and Conflict of Interest

Judicial Watch has investigated the financial records of Judge Anna Diggs Taylor, who last week ruled the NSA electronic surveillance program unconstitutional, may have a conflict of interest.

According to her 2003 and 2004 financial disclosure statements, Judge Diggs Taylor served as Secretary and Trustee for the Community Foundation for Southeastern Michigan (CFSEM). She was reelected to this position in June 2005. The official CFSEM website states that the foundation made a “recent grant” of $45,000 over two years to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan, a plaintiff in the wiretapping case. Judge Diggs Taylor sided with the ACLU of Michigan in her recent decision.

A minor blogswarm is brewing over this, with Greg Tinti making the best case that this is really an issue, noting the outrage over then-Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito’s relationship to the Vanguard Company.

Still, like Patrick Frey, while I find the reasoning in her opinion in this case strained, to say the least, I don’t see this as a big deal. Federal judges often serve on boards for groups with some public policy advocacy positions. Ruth Bader Ginsburg doesn’t recuse herself from cases involving feminist groups nor did Thurgood Marshall recuse himself from cases argued by his successors at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

Judges have ideological biases and there’s not much getting around that. So long as they have no financial stake or otherwise have a personal interest in the outcome of the case, they’re not required to sit on the sidelines. Indeed, it would be difficult to have some high profile cases tried if that were the case, given that most federal judges have had long careers as political animals before and sometimes during their tenures.

FILED UNDER: General, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Bush supporters have suddenly developed — literally overnight — a profound and noble interest in the judicial ethical rules governing conflicts of interest. They’re all experts on these rules now and most (though not all) have shockingly decided that Judge Anna Diggs Taylor acted improperly by ruling on the NSA case even though she is a Trustee of an organization that donated money to the ACLU (which means she is a corrupt person, which means that her ruling was wrong,

  2. Bush supporters have suddenly developed — literally overnight — a profound and noble interest in the judicial ethical rules governing conflicts of interest. They’re all experts on these rules now and most (though not all) have shockingly decided that Judge Anna Diggs Taylor acted improperly by ruling on the NSA case even though she is a Trustee of an organization that donated money to the ACLU (which means she is a corrupt person, which means that her ruling was wrong,

  3. memeorandum says:

    Discussion: USA Today, The Volokh Conspiracy, Unclaimed Territory, Redstate, Liberty Street, TPMmuckraker, INTEL DUMP, KnoxViews, The American Princess, Viking Pundit, JustOneMinute and Outside The Beltway

  4. いじめの図式=ジェンフリ限界の図式 おててつなぎ徒競走では決して解決しえない人間の醜悪性 人は『いじめの時間』で賢くなっていく [IMG いじめの時間] 撤去に賛成 <スピアーズさん広告>妊娠姿にシール…東京メトロ表参道駅

  5. [IMG working] [IMG Outside The Beltway | OTB] Troy Lee Gentry Shoots Tame Bear Low Income Housing for the $160,000 a Year Set Wiretapping Judge and Conflict of Interest Alaska Governor Murkowski Comes in Last in Primary Visible Ink for Police, No Problem (Tattoos) Weirdness Finally Costs Tom Cruise Money Why Is AI Surprised? Beltway Traffic Jam The Case for Circumcision

  6. madmatt says:

    Gosh I notice when similar issues came up with alito and other federal judges on the right it was perfectly ok to have your own political views? Did you ever stop and thinkabout the rank hypocrisy you people spout?

  7. jpe says:

    The Vanguard stuff was no big deal, and neither is this. Good point noting that this is, if anything, best characterized as an ideological, rather than a financial, CoI.

    madmatt, OTB is a right-leaning blog.

  8. James Joyner says:

    matt: Did you actually read the post?

  9. BlogDC says:

    Things You Should Know About This Morning: 8/23…

    -Oklahoma’s Senator Inhofe appears to be completely insane. -Frank Murkowski lost in Alaska’s GOP primary. -The wingnuts are still trying to attack the judge who ruled in the wiretapping case. -I’m truly terrified by Peak Oil Theory. -Steven Maloney…

  10. legion says:

    A minor blogswarm is brewing over this, with Greg Tinti making the best case that this is really an issue, noting the outrage over then-Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito’s relationship to the Vanguard Company.

    And yet it was still considered a ‘great thing’ by these same blogswarmers that Alito was eventually confirmed to the Supreme Court; unarguably, a more significant and influential position than Taylor’s.

    Also, bear in mind that Judge Taylor’s group gave money to the ACLU; neither she nor her group recieved money from the ACLU. While there are certainly still questions that should be asked, the difference makes this issue much less ominous.

  11. James Joyner says:

    legion: Right. Again, that was the substance of the post.

  12. Herb says:

    I was always under the impression that “Judges were not supposed to have Biases”.

    I Guess I was wrong, but then again, the quality of some decisions from SCOTUS leaves a lot to be desired and have certainly shown the personal bias of the court and its judges.

  13. James Joyner says:

    Herb: Judges are people; people have biases. Indeed, judges generally come from the ranks of the vey politically connected.

    What we can expect is that they rule on the law rather than their policy preferences. When they fail to do that, there’s a problem.

  14. madmatt says:

    hey jpe I read both sides of arguments and try and discern the truth…can you say the same?

  15. I think the issue is less if she had this indirect conflict of interest, but rather did she disclose it. As you point out, it would be hard for a Judge to have any interactions outside of the courtroom without eventually finding some similar conflict of interest.

    From a practical standpoint, such a disclosure would have little impact. It is a rare attorney who would dare to impugn a judge before whom they may have to appear. The number of judges removed for conflicts of interest are minimal.

    What is more significant to me is her having the conflict and then putting out such a poorly reasoned opinion.

  16. […] ***** Other bloggers are sounding off on the topic: MyVastRightWingConspiracy,Outside The Beltway, The Moderate Voice Technorati Tags:  Bush, CIA, civil liberties, current events, data mining, eavesdropping, FBI, GOP, headlines, Judicial Activism, news, news and politics, NSA, politics, President Bush, Rants, Republicans, terrorism, wiretapping […]

  17. Alex Knapp says:

    You know, this doesn’t even rise to the level of an APPEARANCE of a conflict of interest. Saying that it does is akin to saying that if somebody sues McDonald’s, the judge has a “conflict of interest” if he eats there…

  18. James Joyner says:

    Alex: Glenn Greenwald and others have argued that it might have been best had she disclosed the conflict. Still, I agree–this is essentially a non-story.

  19. Remember Vanguard?…

    Back when Justice Samuel Alito was merely a nominee to the Supreme Court, Democrats made issue of two things in particular in Justice Alito’s past hoping to derail the nomination. The first was his membership in an organization called CAP……

  20. Herb says:

    JJ:

    You hit the nail “right on the head” Judges who rule with their biases and not according to the law are the problem.

    Those judges who do not make their decisions “According to the Law” are, and should be subject to “Immediate Impeachment”.

    The real problem is: We have no government Representatives that have the will or guts to impeach anyone.

    Could the reason be because of these judges previous “Political Connections” ?

  21. truth machine says:

    Gosh I notice when similar issues came up with alito and other federal judges on the right it was perfectly ok to have your own political views?

    Uh, like James Joyner just said in his piece that it’s ok for any judge to: “So long as they have no financial stake or otherwise have a personal interest in the outcome of the case, they’re not required to sit on the sidelines.”

    Did you ever stop and thinkabout the rank hypocrisy you people spout?

    Uh, which people? I’m a leftist (following a link from Glenn Greenwald’ blog) who finds most right wingers and Republicans to be hypocrites, but James Joyner doesn’t seem to have displayed any here.

    hey jpe I read both sides of arguments and try and discern the truth…can you say the same?

    You don’t seem to have tried here … and what does your comment even have to do with what jpe wrote?

  22. Anderson says:

    Is Greg Tinti master of his own domain now, or still blogging here?

  23. Anderson says:

    He began a stint as a guest writer on OTB in June 2006 and soon became Breaking News Editor. He decided to return to his own blog in mid August but will still guest post occasionally.

    Never mind ….

  24. James Joyner says:

    Yep. I posted about it a few days ago.