WASHINGTON – A top Justice Department official under President Ronald Reagan tore into Justice Antonin Scalia for holding a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill with tea partyers.

"Justice Antonin Scalia galloped beyond the farthest boundaries of judicial propriety in secretly meeting on Capitol Hill to discuss the Constitution with Tea Party members of Congress saddled with a co-equal duty to assess the constitutionality of legislative action," Bruce Fein, Reagan's associate deputy attorney general, wrote in a published letter to the New York Times.

"If there are better ways to destroy public confidence in judicial impartiality, they do not readily come to mind."

Scalia last week attended a private gathering with on Capitol Hill, ostensibly to discuss the Constitution, with a group of tea party lawmakers led by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), the leader of the House Tea Party Caucus.

Fein wrote that "[n]o justice has ever testified on the constitutionality of bills before Congress," and noted that former Justice Abe Fortas was forced to resign for privately advising President Lyndon Johnson.

"[J]ustices must be above suspicion," he added.

Scalia, 74, was nominated to the bench by Reagan in 1986, as has reliably voted on the conservative side of issues during his tenure.

His actions only fueled criticisms that members of the Supreme Court are evolving into partisan entities, more openly expressing political preferences and losing their stature as neutral arbiters of the Constitution.

Another recent target of the same misgivings has been conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, whose wife Ginni Thomas came under fire for openly cozying up with the tea party movement and involving herself with activism on its behalf.