Republicans defend Judge Samuel Alito after another ethical bombshell

WASHINGTON — Republicans are brushing aside ethical questions surrounding fellow Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito after it was revealed he accepted an undisclosed trip from a GOP megadonor who had business before the court.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Wednesday that Congress should ‘stay out’ of court business after ProPublica reported that the conservative judiciary accepted a luxury fishing vacation from wealthy benefactors .

“I think this is part of an assault on conservatives because the left doesn’t like their decisions,” added Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

According to the nonprofit Investigative Journalism Association, Alito took a luxury trip to Alaska in 2008 aboard a private jet chartered by hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer, organized by conservative figure Leonard Leo. leader who was then the head of the Federalist Society. The trip was not reported on Alito’s financial disclosure forms, and Alito did not recuse himself when Singer’s businesses later got into trouble in court.

Alito challenged the nature of the report in a highly unusual opinion piece published by The Wall Street Journal hours before ProPublica’s investigative piece was made public. Justice downplayed his relationship with Singer and denied any wrongdoing.

Alito said Singer allowed him “to occupy what would otherwise have been an unoccupied seat on a private flight to Alaska,” describing his $1,000-a-day lodge stay as a “modest” unit of a room where he ate meals “like at home”. rate. He also said he was unaware that Singer was a party to any cases in court, even though his involvement in some of the companies was reported by US media at the time, according to ProPublica.

Republican senators also played down Alito’s involvement with Singer on Wednesday.

“I thought his answer was accurate and on point,” said Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah). “If he knew that Singer had a business and that Singer’s name was associated with it, then he might have considered recusing himself, but he had no way of knowing that Singer was associated with a case in court. .”

Sen. Mike Rounds (RS.D.) said it’s easy for members of Congress to guess Alito’s actions “15 years after” the trip.

“I think we should respect the fact that it’s a separate branch and allow [Chief Justice John Roberts] to chart the best path forward,” Rounds said.

The ProPublica report comes amid growing calls for ethics reform at the Supreme Court following revelations of similar lavish overseas trips by Justice Clarence Thomas. Earlier this year, ProPublica detailed decades of lavish trips Thomas took with billionaire Harlan Crow, who paid the travel bills that included private jets and a yacht, and a real estate deal in which Crow bought property in justice and his family. Thomas’ mother still lives rent-free in one of the houses Crow bought.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) announced Wednesday that his committee would move forward with legislation to impose higher ethical standards on the court after lawmakers return from vacation. of July 4.

“To think that a judge of the court, who is supposed to be an academic and who is so erudite, gives such weak arguments, I think it’s a real surprise,” Durbin said, criticizing the way Alito downplayed the trip in his Wall Street Journal editorial. .

“Chief Justice Roberts could resolve that issue this afternoon. He could establish a code of conduct in the responsibilities of his judges to disclose everything and end this, ”added the senator.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), another Justice Committee member, was even more blunt, calling ProPublica’s report “absolutely abhorrent.”

“He has no sense of scruple or shame that anyone might have the right to question him. It sounds like a very smug and superior attitude that indicates he thinks he’s only responsible. in front of anyone,” Blumenthal added of Alito.

The Democrats’ ethics proposal calls for establishing an enforceable code of conduct for the Supreme Court, which exists for lower-ranking members of the federal judiciary. It would also require stricter reporting and transparency requirements. Only one GOP senator, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, has expressed interest in demanding that the court establish a code of ethics.

Sen. Thom Tillis (RN.C.) said Wednesday that the Supreme Court “probably should” consider raising its ethical standards given declining public support for the institution, though he let it is up to the court to do so in the end.

“It would be useful to know which of the nine justices is opposed to even having this discussion. I hear it requires unanimous consent,” Tillis told HuffPost.

“I think they would do well to go and take a look at public perceptions and recognize, even if you don’t think it’s going to change the specific future behaviors of the court, that people are raising legitimate questions, and that could be resolved by moving forward with their own self-enforcing ethical standards,” he added.


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