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Samuel Alito Disparages Reporting of Supreme Court Justices’ Unethical Gifts

“They look for any little thing they can find, and they try to make something out of it,” Alito said.

Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Alito speaks during the Georgetown University Law Center's third annual Dean's Lecture to the Graduating Class in the Hart Auditorium in McDonough Hall February 23, 2016, in Washington, D.C.

Days after undercover audio revealed biased opinions from Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, a new round of audio has been released in which he expresses hostile views toward the free press, singling out publications that have sought to hold him and other justices accountable for their unethical actions.

The latest recording was obtained by Ally Sammarco, a journalist and colleague of documentary filmmaker Lauren Windsor. Both had posed as conservative supporters of Alito’s during an event that was hosted by the Supreme Court Historical Society earlier this month.

In the audio, Sammarco, who describes herself on social media as a former Republican, introduces herself by giving Alito a compliment, calling him an “American hero.” She then asks what he thinks about recent “undeserved” media criticism he’s faced — likely a reference to the controversy surrounding the flying of political flags outside of his homes in recent years.

Alito demurs momentarily to make a generalized statement about critics of rulings by him and other members of the conservative bloc.

“They don’t like our decisions, and they don’t like how they anticipate we may decide some cases that are coming up. That’s the beginning of the end of it,” he says on the recording.

He then disparages press organizations “that are very well-funded by ideological groups that have spearheaded these attacks,” complaining specifically about ProPublica, which has uncovered thousands of dollars in previously unreported gifts that Alito has received from conservative benefactors.

ProPublica gets a lot of, you know, gets a lot of money, and they have spent a fortune investigating Clarence Thomas, for example,” Alito says.

“They look for any little thing they can find, and they try to make something out of it,” he added.

Alito has received thousands of dollars in gifts from right-wing billionaire benefactors, many of whom have a stake in one or more cases the Court is currently considering. His defense of Thomas is incredibly telling, as the longest-serving justice has recently revealed that he received over $4 million in gifts over the past 20 years, which he didn’t disclose until after the ProPublica reports highlighted how he had concealed them.

ProPublica’s reporting has been widely lauded, with its reports on gifts to justices netting them a Pulitzer Prize win last month.

“Maybe Justice Alito should read the 1st Amendment instead of attacking the press,” said Adam Cohen, vice chair of Lawyers for Good Government.

Previous undercover recordings of Alito by Windsor also revealed biases by the justice that could interfere with his ability to rule fairly. In one comment by Alito, he agreed with Windsor who, posing as a conservative, said that it was impossible to “negotiate with the left,” and that it’s “a matter of, like, winning.”

“I think you’re probably right…one side or the other is going to win,” Alito responded.

In another recording, Windsor suggested that it was the Court’s role to guide the country “to a place of godliness.”

“Oh, I agree with you. I agree with you,” Alito said.

Alito’s derision toward press oversight and his seeming endorsement of a potential theocratic judiciary comes as the justice is also facing fierce criticism regarding the placement of political flags in front of his homes.

In January 2021, just days after former President Donald Trump was impeached for his role in instigating the Capital attack two weeks before, an upside-down flag flew outside Alito’s home, a symbol of support for Trump’s efforts to overturn his 2020 presidential election loss to now-President Joe Biden. And just last summer, an “Appeal to Heaven” flag, widely used by Christian nationalist organizations (and prominently flown by Trump loyalists during the Capitol attack) flew over the Alito family vacation home in New Jersey.

Alito has blamed his wife for the flags flying outside their homes, an excuse that legal experts, including his former law clerk, have rejected as irrelevant.

Some Congress members are advocating for legislation that could hold the Supreme Court to higher ethics standards, including when it comes to political gifts to justices. In an MSNBC interview on Thursday night, Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) said that gifts to justices should be limited to $50 per benefactor — a rate similar to the restrictions that are placed on members of the legislative branch.

“Under what circumstances would a Supreme Court justice need something, hundreds of thousands of dollars or millions of dollars, in foreign travel or paid tuition for family members or a recreational vehicle?” Raskin asked.

“We want a $50 gift ban for Supreme Court justices. They make $300k a year. Pay for your own lunch and pay for your own vacation,” he added.

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