The Mahablog

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The Mahablog

Sam Alito’s Hissy Fit

So the newest Supreme Court scandal involves Sam Alito. This is from ProPublica (by Justin Elliott, Joshua Kaplan, and Alex Mierjeski):

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 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.

Here’s where it gets hinky. ProPublica sent questions to Justice Alito to get his side of the story. ProPublica asked him to respond by Tuesday at noon. Alito did not respond. Instead, he published a hissy fit screen in the Wall Street Journal, headlined ProPublica Misleads Its Readers.

However, Alito’s little fit was published five hours before the ProPublica article was made public. Alito couldn’t have know what the article said, even though he cited it as if he had read it.

Paul Farhi and Robert Barnes write for WaPo,

Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. took issue with questions raised by the investigative journalism outlet ProPublica about his travel with a politically active billionaire, and on Tuesday evening, he outlined his defense in an op-ed published by the Wall Street Journal.

Yet Alito was responding to a news story that ProPublica hadn’t yet published.

Alito’s Journal column, bluntly headlined “ProPublica Misleads Its Readers,” was an unusual public venture by a Supreme Court justice into the highly opinionated realm of a newspaper editorial page. And it drew criticism late Tuesday for effectively leaking elements of ProPublica’s still-in-progress journalism — with the assistance of the Journal’s editorial page editors.

An editor’s note at the top of Alito’s column said ProPublica reporters Justin Elliott and Josh Kaplan had sent questions to Alito last week and asked for a response by Tuesday at noon. The editor’s note doesn’t mention that ProPublica hadn’t yet published its story — nor does it mention that Alito did not provide his answers directly to ProPublica.

The WaPo writers continue,

The article details the conservative justice’s relationship with billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Singer, including their trip to an Alaskan fishing resort in 2008. According to the story, Singer — whose hedge fund subsequently came before the court 10 times in cases involving business disputes — flew Alito to the resort on his private jet, a trip ProPublica reported would have cost Alito more than $100,000 one way if he had chartered the jet on his own.

Alito, who wrote the landmark Dobbs decision that struck down federal abortion rights last year, didn’t list the trip on his financial disclosure forms, an omission that some ethics experts say could violate federal law.

The article noted the role of conservative judicial activist Leonard Leo in organizing the Alaska trip, including recruiting Singer to fly Alito to the lodge. The longtime head of the Federalist Society, Leo helped Alito win confirmation to the Supreme Court. Singer and the lodge’s owner were major donors to the Federalist Society.

All very neat and tidy, isn’t it?

The facts not in question are that in 2008 Alito flew to Alaska for a fishing trip in a private jet belonging to billionaire hedge fund manager and Republican donor Paul Singer, buthe  didn’t report the flight as a gift. He then failed to recuse himself—and ruled in Singer’s favor—in a 2014 Supreme Court case called Republic of Argentina v. NML Capital. The case involve one of Singer’s hedge funds. Alito claims that he didn’t make the connection between the hedge fund and Singer, and anyway there was no appearance of impropriety, for reasons.

And he wasn’t required to recuse or disclose and the lodge was “rustic” and not at all luxurious. Even though a room there cost $1,000 a night, Chris Hayes just said on MSNBC. And I liked this part:

As for the flight, Mr. Singer and others had already made arrangements to fly to Alaska when I was invited shortly before the event, and I was asked whether I would like to fly there in a seat that, as far as I am aware, would have otherwise been vacant. It was my understanding that this would not impose any extra cost on Mr. Singer. Had I taken commercial flights, that would have imposed a substantial cost and inconvenience on the deputy U.S. Marshals who would have been required for security reasons to assist me.

In other words, he was doing us all a favor by taking that seat on that private plane for the nice fishing holiday. We should thank him.

Above the Law: Sam Alito Laments It’s Getting So You Can’t Take All-Expense Paid Luxury Vacations Funded By Billionaires Anymore

David Kurtz, TPM, Sam Alito Is A Peevish, Self-Absorbed Piece Of Work

For what it’s worth, I read the ProPublica piece less as an indictment of Alito for failure to report or of the lax ethics rules binding Supreme Court justices and more as a window into the corrupt project to swing the court towards the right:

Leonard Leo, the longtime leader of the conservative Federalist Society, attended and helped organize the Alaska fishing vacation. Leo invited Singer to join, according to a person familiar with the trip, and asked Singer if he and Alito could fly on the billionaire’s jet. Leo had recently played an important role in the justice’s confirmation to the court. Singer and the lodge owner were both major donors to Leo’s political groups.

What it reads to me as: Leonard Leo was trotting out his newly confirmed show pony Samuel Alito in front of the megadonors who fund the conservative legal movement. No amount of ethics rules and regs will crack the foundational corruption of that effort.

This just plain stinks.