Risk Update

Supreme Conflicts — Allegations, Commentary and Analysis on Alito Accusations

Justice Samuel Alito Took Luxury Fishing Vacation With GOP Billionaire Who Later Had Cases Before the Court” —

  • “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.”
  • “Alito did not report the 2008 fishing trip on his annual financial disclosures. By failing to disclose the private jet flight Singer provided, Alito appears to have violated a federal law that requires justices to disclose most gifts, according to ethics law experts.”
  • “‘If you were good friends, what were you doing ruling on his case?’ said Charles Geyh, an Indiana University law professor and leading expert on recusals. ‘And if you weren’t good friends, what were you doing accepting this?’ referring to the flight on the private jet.”
  • “Justices are almost entirely left to police themselves on ethical issues, with few restrictions on what gifts they can accept. When a potential conflict arises, the sole arbiter of whether a justice should step away from a case is the justice him or herself.”

Justice Samuel Alito: ProPublica Misleads Its Readers” —

  • “In his Wall Street Journal op-ed, Justice Alito argued that he had ‘no obligation’ to recuse himself from any cases involving Mr Singer’s companies.”
  • “‘He allowed me to occupy what would have otherwise been an unoccupied seat on a private flight to Alaska,’ Justice Alito wrote. ‘It was and is my judgment that these facts would not cause a reasonable and unbiased person to doubt my ability to decide the matters in question impartially.'”

WSJ editorial board defends Alito, calls ProPublica report ‘non-scandal built on partisan spin’” —

  • “The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board defended Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito and his previously undisclosed fishing trip with a GOP donor in an editorial Wednesday night, blasting ProPublica’s report as ‘a non-scandal built on partisan spin.'”
  • “‘Justice Alito is still on the Court so he is the big fish that ProPublica is attempting to catch and fillet,’ the board added. ‘We are defending the Court because someone has to. Someone has to stand up for judicial independence and an institution that is part of the bedrock of our constitutional order.'”
  • “Stephen Engelberg, ProPublica’s editor-in-chief, condemned the op-ed’s headline, ‘which the piece declared without anyone having read the article and without asking for our comment… We’re curious to know whether The Journal fact-checked the essay before publication,’ he told The New York Times.”

Supreme Court Struggle to Spot Conflict Laid Bare in Alito Trip” —

  • “New revelations about travel gifted to US Supreme Court justices highlight the tension between rules intended to ensure impartiality and the difficulty in sussing out conflicts.”
  • “Justice Samuel Alito is the target of ProPublica’s most recent reporting, which found he took a 2008 Alaska fishing trip with billionaire Paul Singer and didn’t recuse himself in a 2014 case involving his hedge fund.”
  • “But corporate disclosure rules aimed at parties in an appeal aren’t designed to get at personal conflicts of interest like the allegation around Alito and Singer, said Hogan Lovell’s Sean Marotta. Instead they are intended to flag financial conflicts, a problem even recent amendments have failed to completely address.”
  • “Alito said in a Wall Street Journal op-ed Tuesday that he wasn’t aware of Singer’s involvement in the 2014 case given the limited information provided to the justices in the mandated corporate disclosures, and that it would be ‘utterly impossible’ for his law clerks to track that down.”
  • “Some legal scholars say he’s right about the court’s ability to identify potential conflicts, particularly since they are done in-house.”
  • “Supreme Court conflicts checks are typically conducted within individual chambers, often by clerks and staff tasked with handling a variety of court business, Marotta explained.”
  • “Identifying business ownership of court participants isn’t just a problem for Supreme Court clerks and staff.”
  • “Currently all federal courts, including the Supreme Court, require nongovernmental corporations to note any parent corporation or any publicly held company owning 10% or more of the corporation’s stock.”
  • “But a December 2022 report from the judiciary’s Advisory Committee on Civil Rules notes that even that may not capture all the relevant parties.”
  • “The situation can be even trickier with limited liability entities, where ownership does not necessarily need to be disclosed in court filings and which are at the heart of the allegations involving Alito.”
  • “Other scholars, though, say there are steps the justices can take to help alleviate the problem. St. John’s University School of Law Professor John Barrett suggested on Twitter it would be easy to ‘ask anyone who gives you a gift to list their LLCs and LLPs, & then check cases against that.'”
  • “Marotta floated the possibility of a centralized office within the court to more effectively conduct conflicts checks than doing so in chambers.”