High court panel dismisses complaint against Whitehouse as ‘frivolous’

Sen. Whitehouse to Release Tax Returns

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A committee of Rhode Island’s high court has dismissed a complaint that a conservative advocacy group filed against U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse over his controversial recent U.S. Supreme Court brief.

Whitehouse has been taking fire — mostly from conservatives, though at least one prominent liberal law professor was also critical — after he filed a friend-of-the-court brief warning the justices of potential political consequences depending on how they handle a pending gun case. Whitehouse has long been among the most vocal critics of the court’s conservative justices and their allies.

Judicial Watch announced Aug. 21 it had filed a complaint against Whitehouse with the Rhode Island Supreme Court’s Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee, arguing he shouldn’t have done the brief due to his status as an inactive member of the Rhode Island bar. Whitehouse’s office said he has been a member of the U.S. Supreme Court bar since 1986.

“After careful consideration of the complaint and relevant information pertaining to this complaint, the committee voted to dismiss the complaint as frivolous,” Tamera Rocha, the committee’s staff attorney, wrote in a letter to Judicial Watch on Aug. 29.

Rocha separately informed Whitehouse in a letter on Sept. 5. She acknowledged “it is not customary” to tell an individual about a complaint against them that will not be investigated, but said she did so “given that this matter has been disclosed to media outlets.”

Whitehouse also received a measure of vindication on Wednesday when the fact-checking outlet PolitiFact rated as “True” the senator’s claim that $34 million in so-called “dark money” was spent to block President Obama’s 2016 Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland and support President Trump’s two appointees, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

But his Republican colleagues have been united in attacking the brief. All 53 Senate Republicans, including Maine’s Susan Collins, signed a letter in response to the brief, telling the justices they “must not be cowed by the threats of opportunistic politicians.”

“The implication is as plain as day: Dismiss the case, or we’ll pack the Court,” the Republicans wrote.

Whitehouse shot back: “If only they could agree so quickly on gun legislation in the wake of El Paso, Dayton, and Odessa. The response to our brief from Republicans and the partisan donor interests like the NRA driving the Court’s polarization shows exactly why it’s time to speak out.”

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) is WPRI 12’s politics and business editor and a Target 12 investigative reporter. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook

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