Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012 | 12:05 a.m.
A planned visit by conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia to a Las Vegas Roman Catholic church for a ceremony seeking divine guidance for legal professionals and to a Las Vegas Strip casino reception afterward was drawing criticism Tuesday from a liberal activist who promised demonstrations to mark the events.
Scalia, who is due to begin his 27th year on the court next month, also is scheduled Wednesday to speak to law students and faculty at the Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Linda Overbey, a union organizer and volunteer with the advocacy group MoveOn.org, focused on Scalia's planned attendance at a Red Mass liturgy and a reception following the service hosted by the conservative St. Thomas More Society of Nevada at the Palazzo resort. The property is owned by Las Vegas Sands Corp. and its chief, Sheldon Adelson.
"Adelson and Scalia. Two poster boys of Citizens United. One ruled for it and one benefits from it," Overbey said. She also cited liberal fears that the increasingly conservative high court will limit abortion rights established with the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.
Scalia, 76, has been on the court since 1986 and was part of a 5-4 court majority in the Citizens United ruling of 2010 that allows unlimited direct spending by corporations and unions on elections. He has become one of the most outspoken members of the court, and has been promoting his book, "Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts," co-authored with legal scholar Bryan Garner.
Adelson has been one of the largest individual contributors to Republican party candidates and Jewish causes. He gave $10 million in support of then-presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich and has pledged $100 million to Mitt Romney's GOP bid for the White House.
A Sands spokesman didn't immediately respond to a message about whether Adelson would meet Scalia at the event.
Bishop Joseph Pepe, head of the Las Vegas Diocese, will officiate the Red Mass at the Guardian Angel Cathedral just off the Las Vegas Strip. The diocese has held similar ceremonies in past years, a spokeswoman said, but the newly formed St. Thomas More Society of Nevada sought to raise the profile of the event this year.
St. Thomas More Society of Nevada leaders did not immediately respond Tuesday to messages.
Similar blessings for judges and lawyers date to the mid-1200s in Paris. It gets its name from the red vestments worn by church officials symbolizing enlightening fire burning for the salvation of souls.
In the U.S., the service became a tradition for U.S. Supreme Court justices who for decades attended services on the Sunday before court convened in October. The event became enmeshed in the fight over abortion rights after liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg attended once and was so offended by the anti-abortion homily that she never returned.
At UNLV, Scalia is scheduled to address law students and faculty, school spokeswoman Megan Downs said. The event is not open to the public.
Scalia will be the second Supreme Court justice to visit Las Vegas in recent months. Justice Anthony Kennedy steered clear of current events and controversy during a luncheon speech before Nevada judges and lawyers hosted by the state Supreme Court in May at a resort in Henderson outside Las Vegas. Kennedy is considered a swing vote on court issues.
Six Nevada Supreme Court justices were due to attend Wednesday's Red Mass, court spokesman Bill Gang said. Justice Nancy Saitta was unavailable to attend. Chief Justice Michael Cherry and justices James Hardesty, Kristina Pickering and Ron Parraguirre also planned to attend the reception.