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Alito Wrote Anti-Journalism Screed Before ProPublica Published Exposé About Him

ProPublica published another bombshell article on Tuesday revealing Alito’s relationship with a GOP billionaire.

Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito poses for the official photo at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on October 7, 2022.

In 2008, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito took a fishing trip to Alaska on a Republican billionaire’s private jet and never disclosed it, which experts have said was illegal. Then, as ProPublica unveiled in a bombshell exposé on Tuesday, Alito refused to recuse himself when that same billionaire’s hedge fund had business before the Supreme Court at least 10 times.

Experts have condemned the right-wing justice’s behavior as ethically questionable. But Alito bitterly claimed in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that was published on Tuesday — before ProPublica’s article even went live — that he never did anything wrong.

In the op-ed, Alito said that he “had no obligation to recuse in any of the cases that ProPublica cites,” “even if I had been aware” of the billionaire Paul Singer’s connection to the cases. He claimed that he has only spoken to Singer on “a handful of occasions,” and that it would be “utterly impossible” for him to know the connections of businesses and individuals like Singer in every case brought before the Court. Any “reasonable and unbiased” person wouldn’t see his relationship with Singer and think that it would affect his ability to “impartially” rule on the case, he said.

This argument is exceedingly dubious, ethics experts have said. Singer’s hedge fund, Elliott Management, came before the Court a number of times over the course of 15 years in a battle against the country of Argentina, and is one of the top hedge funds in the world; in 2014, the Supreme Court ruled seven to one in Elliott Management’s favor, with Alito ruling with the majority, and the hedge fund was paid $2.4 billion from the country.

The billionaire isn’t some unnamed executive for the hedge fund — he is the firm’s founder, and it is the main reason behind his over $5 billion net worth. At the time of the prolonged court battles, Singer was a prominent figure in media reports on the case. The fund even launched a public relations and lobbying campaign around the case.

The Wall Street Journal has also published glowing articles about Singer, who has contributed over $80 million to Republican groups over the past decade and given millions to right-wing think tank Manhattan Institute, for which he is the chairman.

“The idea ‘just trust us to do the right thing’ while remaining in total secrecy is unworkable,” said University of Virginia School of Law judicial ethics expert Amanda Frost.

“If you were good friends, what were you doing ruling on his case?” Charles Geyh, Indiana University law professor and expert on recusals, said to ProPublica. “And if you weren’t good friends, what were you doing accepting [a private jet trip]?”

If Alito were to charter a private jet on his own, it would have cost over $100,000 one way, the publication found.

Alito went on to argue that personal hospitality, including “property or facilities” owned by an individual, do not need to be disclosed. He cited Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary’s and Black’s Law Dictionary’s definitions of “facilities” — not quite official Court documents — to argue that a private jet is a “facility.” He also said that he only took the jet because there was an empty seat on it, and that the cost to take a commercial flight would have been too much of a burden on U.S. Marshals, who would have had to provide security.

He then downplayed the undisclosed three-night stay in the Alaska lodge, owned then by major conservative legal donor Robin Arkley II, describing it as “modest” and “rustic.” The lodge, which has since been sold, charged more than $1,000 a day, according to ProPublica — but the justice didn’t need to worry about the cost, as Arkley allowed Alito to stay for free.

Alito’s claim on the disclosure blatantly contradicts expert opinions. Seven experts on ethics law told ProPublica that disclosure of private jet flights — similar to the one taken and not disclosed by Justice Clarence Thomas — are clearly required under the law, and that the lodge stay needed to be disclosed as well, though that rule may not have been made explicit until recently. Still, however, other federal judges have disclosed private jet flights in recent decades.

In fact, the story bears many resemblances to those revealing Thomas’s relationship with GOP megadonor Harlan Crow, down to the fact that far right court manipulator Leonard Leo was present at trips taken by the justices and that Thomas also hid behind the excuse that he doesn’t think the gifts needed to be disclosed.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island), who has repeatedly drawn attention to corruption in the High Court, condemned Alito’s op-ed in a tweet thread on Tuesday.

“Seriously, who in real life calls a plane a ‘facility’?” Whitehouse wrote. “And what, he just happened to be flying to Alaska and there just happened to be a private jet going to Alaska with an empty seat, and he just happened to find that out, like on some weird billionaire shared-ride Uber?”

“Oh, and would that “empty seat” trick fly with legislative or executive ethics disclosures? (Hint: no.) And how about with the Financial Disclosure Committee?” Whitehouse continued. “This just keeps getting worse.”

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