Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Justice Alito disputes ProPublica report he should have disclosed luxury trip

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito sits for a group portrait the Supreme Court building in Washington on Oct. 7, 2022.
J. Scott Applewhite
/
AP
Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito sits for a group portrait the Supreme Court building in Washington on Oct. 7, 2022.

Justice Samuel Alito did not disclose a luxury trip he took in 2008 with hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer nor did he recuse himself from cases that the businessman later had in front of the Supreme Court, a new report from ProPublica alleges.

ProPublica says that after this trip, Singer's hedge fund brought at least 10 cases to the high court. This included a case from 2014 involving a dispute between Singer's hedge fund and the country of Argentina. Alito voted with the 7-1 majority, along with the court's liberals, in favor of Singer — netting his hedge fund, Elliott Management, $2.4 billion, the publication found.

Alito didn't respond to ProPublica's questions directly. Instead he took an unusual step to publish a preemptive op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, refuting the allegations and defending himself saying, "I had no obligation to recuse in any of the cases that ProPublica cites."

He adds he was unaware of Singer's connection to the entities involved in the cases brought before the court and even if he had, "recusal would not have been required or appropriate."

Alito also says he wasn't obligated to list items as gifts on his 2008 Financial disclosure report, as ProPublica claims.

Federal law states that anyone who "knowingly and willfully fails to file or report any information required by filers of public reports" faces a penalty of more than $70,000 per offense committed after Nov. 2, 2015. The penalty for offenses that occurred from 2007 to 2015 is $50,000. A luxury trip could mark multiple violations.

And further, the nine Supreme Court justices, as thousands of other government workers, are required to file financial disclosures. As of 2023, they must report gifts worth more than $480. Previously it was for gifts worth $415 or more. as NPR has previously reported.

ProPublica writes that: "The law has a 'personal hospitality' exemption: If someone hosts a justice on their own property, free 'food, lodging, or entertainment' don't always have to be disclosed."

The law does clearly establish a requirement for justices to disclose gifts of flights on a private jet, according to the publication's interviews with ethics law experts. These experts also maintain Alito should have disclosed his stay at the lodge since it wasn't one individual's vacation home, according to ProPublica.

Alito wrote in his op-ed that "justices commonly interpreted this discussion of 'hospitality' to mean that accommodations and transportation for social events were not reportable gifts. The flight to Alaska was the only occasion when I have accepted transportation for a purely social event, and in doing so I followed what I understood to be standard practice."

The latest report follows others from ProPublica on Supreme Court justices

This new story comes after an April report from ProPublica that revealed a 20-year relationship between Justice Clarence Thomas and Republican billionaire donor Harlan Crow. During this decades-long connection, Crow provided the justice with luxury trips, tuition payments for Thomas' family members, rides on the billionaire's private jet and cruises on a mega yacht, among other gifts, ProPublica found.

Thomas did not disclose any of this on his financial disclosure forms and later said that he had been advised that gifts from personal friends did not have to be disclosed. He pledged to disclose them in the future.

The court has maintained that its members voluntarily follow a code of conduct used for lower courts.

In response to a request to appear before Senate Judiciary, for which he declined to appear, Chief Justice John Roberts sent a "Statement on Ethics Principles and Practices" signed by all nine members of the court that seemed to say the judge's feel they are covered by existing ethics rules and don't need anything more.

That reporting spurred a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the Supreme Court's ethicsand a call by critics to establish a stronger set of rules for justices.

Following Wednesday's report on Alito, Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sheldon Whitehouse, a Judiciary subcommittee chairman, said the panel will soon mark up Supreme Court ethics legislation as the nation's high court is in "an ethical crisis of its own making."

Durbin and Whitehouse said in a statement: "The Supreme Court is in an ethical crisis of its own making due to the acceptance of lavish gifts from parties with business before the Court that several Justices have not disclosed. The reputation and credibility of the Court are at stake. Chief Justice Roberts could resolve this today, but he has not acted. The highest court in the land should not have the lowest ethical standards. But for too long that has been the case with the United States Supreme Court. That needs to change."

The Senate Judiciary Committee will take up its ethics legislation once lawmakers return following their July 4th recess.

Who is Paul Singer?

Forbes estimates Singer's net worth to hover around $5.5 billion as of Wednesday.

Singer has used his vast wealth to boost conservative issues and support Jewish and pro-Israel causes.

Prior to starting his hedge fund, Elliott Investment Management, in 1977, Singer received a law degree from Harvard and worked as an attorney.

As of Dec. 31, 2022, Elliot said it manages nearly $55.2 billion in assets and employs more than 500 people, according to the company's website.Singer also holds the title of president, co-CEO and co-chief investment officer at Elliott.

Founder and President, Elliot Management Corporation Paul Singer speaks onstage during The New York Times DealBook Conference in 2014 in New York City.
Thos Robinson / Getty Images for New York Times
/
Getty Images for New York Times
Founder and President, Elliot Management Corporation Paul Singer speaks onstage during The New York Times DealBook Conference in 2014 in New York City.

Singer also founded his eponymous foundation which lists its goals as supporting "American democracy, the future of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, and Jewish continuity," and Start-Up Nation Central, which focuses on growing Israel's start-up community.

While also serving as chairman for the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a conservative think tank, Singer has long been a supporter of LGBTQ issues.

The Paul E. Singer Foundation states it also focuses on "LGBT equality efforts" and a2014 Washington Post profile reported that for years the billionaire had spent more than $10 million in an effort to legalize gay marriage in every state and to get Republicans on board.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.