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. 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?

  2. 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.

  3. James Joyner says:

    matt: Did you actually read the post?

  4. 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.

  5. James Joyner says:

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

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. madmatt says:

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

  9. 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.

  10. 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…

  11. 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.

  12. 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” ?

  13. 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?

  14. Anderson says:

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

  15. 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 ….

  16. James Joyner says:

    Yep. I posted about it a few days ago.