(RightWing.org) – Investigative reporters at ProPublica recently tipped their hand when they formally queried Justice Samuel Alito regarding a story they were preparing. In response and rather than answering their questions directly, the Supreme Court Justice took his case to the court of public opinion when he scooped the non-profit news outlet by publishing a pre-emptive op-ed response in the Wall Street Journal.
Alito’s Opinion Piece
The editors at the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) prefaced Alito’s op-ed by noting that ProPublica reporters had emailed Alito a list of questions and asked him to respond by Tuesday, June 20. They claimed to write balanced reports.
Perhaps Alito was more familiar with the publication’s more recent work, a series of investigative articles exploring Justice Clarence Thomas’s personal and financial dealings with his long-time friend Harlan Crow. Alito decided to tell his own story about a fishing trip to Alaska that he accepted from an acquaintance, Paul Singer, a hedge fund manager, rather than leave it to ProPublica.
Alito explained that ProPublica had asked him why he hadn’t recused himself in specific cases that they cited in their questions. Alito said that until the outlet began asking questions, he and his staff weren’t aware the filings were associated with Singer. Alito wrote that even if he had known, “recusal would not have been required or appropriate.”
Having only a passing relationship with Singer, Alito surmised that, in his opinion, no reasonable person could assume an appearance of bias would exist on that basis. The Justice also noted that limited liability corporations and limited liability partnerships brought the cases that ProPublica cited, and Singer’s name never appeared in any paperwork associated with those cases. He said performing SEC searches wouldn’t have revealed Singer’s association, either.
Alito continued to his second point: the Court’s reporting requirements regarding hospitality and gifts had changed over time. He wrote that since joining the High Court until the filing instructions changed recently, he and other Supreme Court Justices had interpreted “hospitality” to include travel and accommodations for social events, meaning those items weren’t reportable as gifts.
So, when the Justice accepted transportation to Alaska and lodging as part of a social event he was attending, he believed he was following protocol. Singer had offered Alito a place on his private plane to travel to Alaska — a seat that would otherwise have gone empty. By contrast, Alito argued a commercial flight would have cost taxpayers money because a US Marshall must accompany Alito on such flights.
ProPublica Publishes a Scooped Story
ProPublica published its story nearly six hours after Alito’s op-ed appeared in the WSJ. The crux of the story remained the same: Luxury travel has allowed prominent donors “intimate access” to Supreme Court Justices, sometimes even if they’ve had cases before the Court.
The news outlet cited Leonard Leo as the individual who arranged the Alaska fishing event that Alito attended, arranging his transportation and lodging. Leo, a conservative judicial activist, has instrumentally assisted in the appointments of every conservative justice currently on the SCOTUS bench, according to a profile by The Washington Post.
Asked about convincing Alito to participate in the Alaska event, Leo issued a statement that said he’d “never presume to tell” Justice Alito “what to do.” Instead, the activist suggested the ProPublica series of articles centering on Thomas and Alito were ploys to gain the non-profit news outlet new funding from liberal donors.
Responding to Alito’s contention that travel was part of the hospitality exemption, ProPublica reporters found six examples when other Justices had reported gifts involving private jet travel. However, the reporters also found additional instances when another conservative Justice, Antonin Scalia, accepted trips and hospitality from conservative donors, seemingly proving Alito’s point that it was an accepted practice.
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