Rather than comment on the record behind recent exposes on luxury yacht travel sponsored by the billionaire GOP by fellow conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, Justice Samuel Alito wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal to say that there was nothing to see in a forthcoming article about a fishing trip to Alaska in 2008.
Alito anticipated the publication of “Judge Samuel Alito took a luxury fishing vacation with a GOP billionaire who later had court cases” with the editorial after being given the weekend to respond to a series questions about the 2008 private jet takeover in Alaska about the penny of billionaire hedge fund Elliott Management and GOP donor Paul Singer, president of the Manhattan Institute – an influential conservative political think tank – friend of the Federalist Society and so-called “vulture capitalist”.
Wait, a free Alito luxury private jet trip to Alaska with Paul Singer, the same Paul Singer who originally funded Fusion GPS’s opposing work on Donald Trump?
The world is funny.
Gift link: https://t.co/dN1PbqTuEz https://t.co/e9u6YucVzj pic.twitter.com/kxLMfVOO3S
— Pete Strzok (@petestrzok) June 20, 2023
The crux of the ProPublica story is this:
ProPublica’s investigation sheds new light on how luxury travel has given prominent political donors — including one who has had cases before the Supreme Court — intimate access to the nation’s most powerful justices. Another wealthy businessman offered expensive vacations to two members of the high court, ProPublica found. On his trip to Alaska, Alito stayed at a commercial fishing lodge owned by this businessman, who was also a major Conservative donor. Three years earlier, the same businessman flew Judge Antonin Scalia, who died in 2016, on a private jet to Alaska and paid the bill for his stay.
The story, noting that the private jet flight to Alaska “could have exceeded $100,000 one way,” said Singer went on to reap a $2.4 billion windfall six years later when the Supreme Court ruled in his favor in a foreign sovereign immunity law case stylized as Republic of Argentina v. NML Capital.
That case involved a subsidiary of Singer’s Elliot Management, but according to ProPublica, “In the years since, Singer’s hedge fund has come to court at least 10 times in cases where its role was often covered by the legal press and mainstream media.”
With regard to the case Republic of Argentina v. NML Capital, the decision was 7 to 1, with Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg the lone dissenter and Judge Sonia Sotomayor not participating. Alito didn’t write anything. That was left to Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote the opinion of a majority including Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Anthony Kennedy, Justice Stephen Breyer and Justice Elena Kagan.
On January 10, 2014, the day the motion for writ of certiorari was granted in Argentine Republic v. NML Capital, Alito did not take part in three other motions (Alito, a Third Circuit alumnus, is not the judge hearing the Second Circuit motion, Judge Sotomayor is; four judges are needed to grant the certificate, and the case ended up being 7-1).
“Alito did not disclose the theft or stay at the fishing lodge in his annual financial statements. A federal law passed after Watergate requires federal officials, including Supreme Court justices, to publicly declare most gifts (The previous year, Alito said he received $500 worth of Italian food and wine from a friend, noting that his friend was unlikely to “appear in this Court”),” the article said. ProPublica.
In his own defense prior to the publication of the above, Alito wrote in WSJ that the “two charges” against him – that he had created the appearance of impropriety by not recusing himself from the Republic of Argentina against NML Capital and that he should have reported the Singer-sponsored trip — are invalid.
Alito wrote that even if he knew about Singer’s connection with the Argentine Republic against NML Capital, “the recusal would not have been necessary or appropriate”.
“As I recall, I only spoke to Mr. Singer on a handful of occasions, all of them (except for small talk on a fishing trip 15 years ago) consisted of short, flippant comments at events attended by large groups,” Alito wrote, likely referring to everything from Federalist Society events to Manhattan Institute events, or more. “On no occasion have we discussed the activities of his companies, and we have never discussed any case or matter before the Court. Twice he introduced me before I gave a speech, as did dozens of other people.
Alito justified accepting the private jet seat because, in his own words, it was empty and would have remained empty if he had not sat in it.
“And as I will discuss, he allowed me to occupy what would otherwise have been an unoccupied seat on a private flight to Alaska,” the judge continued. “It was and is my opinion that these facts would not cause a reasonable and impartial person to doubt my ability to decide the issues in question impartially.”
Regarding his failure to report the above on his 2008 Financial Disclosure Form, Alito followed Judge Thomas’s lead in his response: The King Salmon Lodge adventure did not have to be disclosed because of a since-closed “personal hospitality” loophole.
“Until a few months ago, the instructions for completing a financial disclosure report told judges that ‘[p]personal hospitality need not be declared”, and “hospitality” has been defined to include “hospitality offered for non-commercial purposes by a person, and not a company or organization, . . . on property or facilities belonging to [a] person . . .’ Section 109(14). The term ‘facilities’ has not been defined, but in both ordinary and legal usage the term encompasses means of transportation,” Alito wrote. “This understanding of the duty to report gifts reflected the expert judgment of the agency to which the Ethics in Government Act assigns responsibility for administering compliance with the law, see 5 USC App. §111 (3) When I joined the Court and until the recent change in filing instructions, judges generally interpreted this discussion of “hospitality” to mean that accommodation and transportation for social events do not were not reportable gifts.The flight to Alaska was the only time I accepted transportation for a purely social event, and in doing so, I followed what I considered common practice.
“For these reasons, I have not included in my Financial Disclosure Report for 2008 either accommodation provided by the owner of King Salmon Lodge, who, to my knowledge, has never been involved in any matter before the Court, nor the seat on the flight to Alaska,” the judge concluded his op-ed, also criticizing ProPublica as “misleading” for claiming the King Salmon Lodge was luxurious 15 years ago. “I spent three nights in a modest one bedroom unit at the King Salmon Lodge which was a cozy but rustic establishment. If I remember correctly the meals were home cooked food. I don’t recall if the lodge party of about 20 people slept together. is seen serving wine, but if there was wine, it was definitely not $1,000 wine.
Although Alito did not report the trip to Alaska on his financial disclosure form, he previously mentioned it publicly in Singer’s presence at the Federalist Society’s annual dinner in 2009. At that event, which David Lat described in Above the Law as “like being at the legal world’s version of Vanity Fair’s Oscar party,” Singer introduced Judge for a speech.
Alito responded with a joke.
“Paul, thank you for the presentation. It was extravagant, but I liked it,” he said. Then the judge told a story:
Like a good dinner speaker, Judge Alito warmed up the crowd with a story. He talked about going on a wilderness fishing trip with Paul Singer (possibly in the Alaskan wilderness, but the details elude us). One morning they woke up to find their camp surrounded by bears. Justice Alito said he wondered, “Do you really want to make history as the first Supreme Court Justice to be eaten by a bear?”
Late Tuesday, Mark Paoletta, a conservative lawyer for Ginni Thomas and one of Judge Thomas’ friendscalled ProPublica’s reporting of Alito “baseless libel.”
Judge Alito demolishes a coming @propublica smear work with superb oped. These baseless slanders are meant to undermine the Court because it no longer responds to left-wing bids. It won’t work. @propublica gets funding from major left donors and is a cog in the left smear machine. https://t.co/EG642WvEnp
—Mark Paoletta (@MarkPaoletta) June 21, 2023
On Wednesday, Paoletta called the story “meaningless.”
.@SenWhitehouse, Judge Randolph has call notes with court conference staff telling him he did not have to report a similar trip. This is what Judges Thomas and Alito understood. Opinions of left-wing judicial “ethics” & @propublica are meaningless. https://t.co/3oO6EPwfq4 pic.twitter.com/OUqPFy2Eik
—Mark Paoletta (@MarkPaoletta) June 21, 2023
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