Former Justice O'Connor Criticized For Ethics Violations

Apr 11, 2011, 11:03 by Victor Ryan

Sandra Day O'Connor, the retired Supreme Court Justice, is being accused of potential ethics violations for continuing to hear cases in the U.S. appeals court while also serving as an advocate for public policy issues, the Associated Press reports.

O'Connor's recent public policy involvement included support of a recent Nevada ballot measure that would change the way state judges are selected. She had to apologize after 50,000 recorded telephone calls featuring her voice were sent out to voters urging support for the measure. O'Connor, 81, was also featured in a television commercial supporting the measure.

O'Connor's role in public policy issues while also sitting in on the U.S. Court of Appeals, which is not uncommon for retired Supreme Court justices, has made some ethicists uneasy.

One of those is Arthur Hellman, an ethics expert at the University of Pittsburgh law school. He said O'Connor probably shouldn't be taking part in court cases if she "wants to engage in this level of political or politically-related activity."

Since retiring from the bench in 2006, O'Connor has played an advocacy role for a list of public policy issues. In addition to the Nevada measure, O'Connor has been an advocate for increased Alzheimer's research, supported better civics education in schools, and was a featured speaker at a reception that included opponents of a proposed copper and gold mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska.

Hellman told the Associated Press O'Connor's actions are dubious, especially in the Alaska case, because "we're talking about political activity. It's a lobbying effort and she is lending her considerable prestige to that effort."

The AP notes that while Supreme Court justices are not covered by the ethics rules that apply to federal judges, justices traditionally have followed those rules.