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Scalia addresses Tea Party Caucus – but should he?

Critics question the propriety of a sitting justice attending a closed-door partisan session, but the event organizer insists all members of Congress are welcome at the 'Conservative Constitutional Seminar.'

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And some observers see the rumblings about Scalia as overblown. Slate called it the "overplayed story of the day" – suggesting that the stir has more to do with Bachmann and her motives – and M. Edward Whelan, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a former Scalia clerk, told the LA Times that he saw nothing improper in Scalia's lecture. "My guess is that, schedule permitting, Scalia would be happy to speak on the same topic to any similar group of members of Congress who invited him," Mr. Whelan said.

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But others say there's a difference between justices appearing before a truly bipartisan group and one that has such a clear partisan agenda, and that the lack of transparency raises concerns.

"I think it’s outrageous that a Supreme Court justice would openly go to a political party meeting, particularly given all the issues around Citizens United [the 2009 decision about corporate political contributions] and all the issues that have come and will be coming before the Supreme Court," says Bob Edgar, a former congressman and the president and CEO of Common Cause, a nonpartisan watchdog group.

Mr. Edgar says that he is concerned with a growing pattern, particularly in the cases of Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas – both of whom attended retreats sponsored by Koch Industries, which stood to benefit from the Citizens United decision – of some justices not carefully avoiding even the appearance of impartiality. "There are only nine justices, and the nine justices are supposed to be serving on behalf of all the people of the United States, not just the tea party, not just the radical right, not just the liberal left," says Edgar.

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