There’s a lot to unpack about the ongoing disclosures about Supreme Court Justices, beginning with the old adage that power corrupts.
Digging a bit deeper, it’s interesting to note just who has been shown to be morally–and probably legally–corrupt. (Hint: it hasn’t been the liberal female justices. There are stories about Elena Kagan’s refusal to accept a gift of bagels on ethical grounds!) The culprits are the far-right Justices who sit on the Court courtesy of Leonard Leo and the Federalist Society.
It began with disclosures about Clarence Thomas and his appalling wife. If a lower-level judge accepted–and hid– lavish gifts and travel from a billionaire ideologue and failed to recuse himself from cases involving that billionaire–not to mention cases in which his wife was an interested party–that judge would soon be removed from the bench.
Now we discover that Justice Alito shares more than ideology with Thomas. Pro Publica broke the story:
In early July 2008, Samuel Alito stood on a riverbank in a remote corner of Alaska. The Supreme Court justice was on vacation at a luxury fishing lodge that charged more than $1,000 a day, and after catching a king salmon nearly the size of his leg, Alito posed for a picture. To his left, a man stood beaming: Paul Singer, a hedge fund billionaire who has repeatedly asked the Supreme Court to rule in his favor in high-stakes business disputes.
Singer was more than a fellow angler. He flew Alito to Alaska on a private jet. If the justice chartered the plane himself, the cost could have exceeded $100,000 one way.
In the years that followed, Singer’s hedge fund came before the court at least 10 times in cases where his role was often covered by the legal press and mainstream media. In 2014, the court agreed to resolve a key issue in a decade-long battle between Singer’s hedge fund and the nation of Argentina. Alito did not recuse himself from the case and voted with the 7-1 majority in Singer’s favor. The hedge fund was ultimately paid $2.4 billion.
Alito–like Thomas–failed to report the trip on his required annual financial disclosure form. Ethics experts tell Pro Publica that the omission violates federal law. Those experts also report being unable to identify another instance of “a justice ruling on a case after receiving an expensive gift paid for by one of the parties.”
ProPublica’s investigation sheds new light on how luxury travel has given prominent political donors — including one who has had cases before the Supreme Court — intimate access to the most powerful judges in the country. Another wealthy businessman provided expensive vacations to two members of the high court, ProPublica found. On his Alaska trip, Alito stayed at a commercial fishing lodge owned by this businessman, who was also a major conservative donor. Three years before, that same businessman flew Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in 2016, on a private jet to Alaska and paid the bill for his stay.
Such trips would be unheard of for the vast majority of federal workers, who are generally barred from taking even modest gifts.
Alito claims he and Singer never discussed business, and that when Singer’s cases came before the court, he’d been unaware of his connection to them.
Right. And I have a bridge to sell you…..
Talking Points Memo points to the larger issue: justices groomed and chosen by the Federalist Society “remain ‘kept’ in perpetuity” by the Right-wing donor network that got them there … “Sugar Justices, if you will.”
What is especially infuriating about these disclosures is that they involve Justices who posture as moral arbiters and issue judicial opinions based upon religious dogma rather than constitutional precedent.
I have previously characterized Alito’s decision in Dobbs as profoundly dishonest, because he cherry-picked and misrepresented both history and legal precedent in order to achieve his desired (paternalistic) result. Given Pro Publica’s report, it seems Alito’s dishonesty isn’t limited to his jurisprudence.
Thomas insisted that Harlan Crowe (whom he met after he joined the Court) was a “dear friend.” Alito says he had “no idea” that Singer was connected to ten cases before the Court. Neither allegation passes the smell test. According to Pro Publica, Alito and Singer have appeared together at public events, and Singer introduced Alito’s speeches on at least two occasions– the annual dinner of the Federalist Society (where Singer told an anecdote about their fishing trip) and a dinner for donors to the equally far-Right Manhattan Institute.
The disclosures are profoundly depressing. They should also be a wake-up call.
It is past time to apply binding ethical standards to the Court. Imposing term limits, and adding Justices to the Court would dilute the influence exercised by corrupt culture warriors doing Federalist Society bidding..