Add Samuel Alito to the list of conservative Supreme Court justices with questionable (at best) ethics, according to a new report from ProPublica.
In 2008, two years after he joined the nation’s highest court, Alito went on a pricey Alaskan fishing trip with a Republican billionaire named Paul Singer. Singer even flew Alito out on his private jet. Alito didn’t report the trip, nor did he recuse himself when Singer’s hedge fund had a case come before the court.
ProPublica sent Alito a series of questions about the trip. Alito didn’t answer them, instead preemptively responding to the yet-to-be-published story with an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, titled “ProPublica Misleads Its Readers.” Alito claimed he never discussed business with Singer, that he was unaware of Singer’s connection to the cases that came before the court, and that justices “commonly” interpret their disclosure requirements to not include “accommodations and transportation for social events.”
Singer said in a statement to ProPublica that he didn’t organize the fishing trip and didn’t even know Alito would be attending. ProPublica notes that the trip was at least partially organized by Federalist Society honcho Leonard Leo, who invited Singer and asked him if he and Alito could fly on Singer’s jet. ProPublica notes that Singer and Alito appeared together at public events after the trip, and that Singer introduced Alito at a Federalist Society lawyers convention.
Leo and the Federalist Society have been in the news a lot lately. ProPublica reported in April that he attended retreats to GOP megadonor Harlan Crow’s private resort with Clarence Thomas. Thomas had been regularly taking luxe trips on Crow’s dime for decades — trips which he, too, did not report. Crow also bought $133,000 worth of property from Thomas, allowing Thomas’ mother to continue living on it, and paid tuition for a child Thomas was raising. Bloomberg later reported that Crow had business before the court, and that Thomas did not recuse himself.
Thomas, like Alito, argued that he didn’t need to report “this type of hospitality,” and, essentially, that it’s all fine because Crow and his wife “are among our dearest friends.”
Politico reported later in April that Neil Gorsuch, another conservative justice, sold a piece of a land to a law firm CEO who often has cases before the court. Gorsuch closed the deal just nine days after he was confirmed to the Supreme Court. Gorsuch didn’t care to note the identity of the purchaser on his disclosure form.
The revelations have alarmed Democrats. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said in April that the committee “will act” in response to the reports about Thomas’ relationship with Crow. “Today’s report demonstrates, yet again, that Supreme Court Justices must be held to an enforceable code of conduct, just like every other federal judge,” he wrote in a statement.
The committee later asked Crow for a list of gifts he gave to Thomas and other justices. Crow refused to comply.
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