Ahead of ProPublica Report, Alito Hits Back

Outlet reveals Supreme Court justice flew for free on billionaire's jet; Alito pens 'WSJ' op-ed about it
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 21, 2023 9:35 AM CDT
Alito Also Flew for Free on Billionaire's Private Jet
Associate Justice Samuel Alito joins other members of the Supreme Court as they pose for a group portrait at the Supreme Court Building in Washington on Oct. 7.   (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito beat ProPublica to the punch Tuesday, publishing an op-ed that responded to questions about possible ethics violations before ProPublica had published its own report. But publish it did. The report describes how hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer, who brought a high-stakes case before the nation's top court, flew Alito to Alaska on a private jet in July 2008 at a cost of more than $100,000 "one way" so the pair could stay at "a luxury fishing lodge that charged more than $1,000 a day." Alito stayed for free as a guest of the lodge owner, conservative donor Robin Arkley II, as part of a trip organized by conservative judicial activist Leonard Leo, who later directed a secret payment to the wife of Justice Clarence Thomas.

A personal hospitality exemption means justices don't necessarily have to report free "food, lodging, or entertainment" provided by a host on their personal property, though experts say a stay at a commercial lodge should have been disclosed, per ProPublica. The outlet adds federal law "clearly requires" judges to disclose gifts of private jet flights. In his Wall Street Journal op-ed, Alito said his seat on Singer's plane "would have otherwise been vacant" and that he didn't disclose the flight or stay because the justices "commonly interpreted" the exemption "to mean that accommodations and transportation for social events were not reportable gifts."

He also denied that he should have recused himself from cases involving Singer. He said he was "unaware" of Singer's connection to cases before the court, as he was "not listed as a party," and added the men had spoken on "no more than a handful of occasions" and never about court or Singer's business. Singer said as much in a statement issued by a rep, per ProPublica. The billionaire added neither he nor his companies had "any pending matters before the Supreme Court, nor could Mr. Singer have anticipated in 2008 that a subsequent matter would arise that would merit Supreme Court review."

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However, Singer's hedge fund had asked the court to intervene in a case pitting the fund against the nation of Argentina in 2007. The fund, which was trying to force Argentina to repay debt it had purchased at a steep discount after the country defaulted in 2001, was denied but again requested Supreme Court intervention in January 2010. In 2014, "the court ruled in Singer’s favor 7-1 with Alito joining the majority," per ProPublica. "The hedge fund was ultimately paid $2.4 billion." (Thomas also failed to disclose flights on billionaire Harlan Crow's private jet, as ProPublica previously reported.)

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