The U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito has found himself in hot water after being pictured on a luxury fishing vacation courtesy of a hedge fund billionaire—who later appeared before the court to ask the justices to rule in his favor.
Like many other fishing aficionados, Alito proudly posed for a photo with the huge king salmon he caught during the trip in the summer of 2008.
He probably didn’t think twice about the snap, until yesterday, when ProPublica revealed that the fellow angler pictured was none other than billionaire hedge fund titan Paul Singer.
The exposé alleges that Singer flew Alito to an Alaska resort on his private jet, a trip that reportedly would have cost Alito more than $100,000 one way if he had chartered the jet on his own.
According to ProPublica, in the years that followed the undisclosed trip, Singer’s hedge fund came before the court “10 times” in various high-profile business disputes.
Still, Alito—a key player in the court’s landmark decision to overturn Roe v. Wade last year, which altered federal abortion rights—failed to both disclose the trip or recuse himself when Singer brought his business before the court.
Each justice is required by the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 to submit financial disclosures, but Alito failed to declare the luxury trip, violating federal law, ProPublica claims.
This year, Alito also applied for an extension period to delay disclosing his finances—just like Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who similarly came under fire for having a secret billionaire benefactor.
“I followed what I understood to be standard practice”
Hours before the damning report was released, Alito published a prebuttal op-ed in the Wall Street Journal denying any wrongdoing.
Alito insisted he didn’t disclose the flight in his annual disclosure form because the rules at the time were vague.
“I followed what I understood to be standard practice,” he wrote, adding that the justices “commonly interpreted” ethics laws “to mean that accommodations and transportation for social events were not reportable gifts.”
Alito also denied he had a conflict in accepting Singer’s “hospitality” or was obligated to disclose the 2008 trip. “Neither charge is valid,” he wrote in response to ProPublica’s claims.
Alito further explained that Singer was merely a casual acquaintance, and took the spot on the billionaire’s plane as it “would have otherwise been vacant.”
What’s more, he called ProPublica’s characterization of the fishing resort “misleading.”
As per ProPublica, “chefs served multi-course meals of Alaskan king crab legs or Kobe filet [steak]. On the last evening, a member of Alito’s group bragged that the wine they were drinking cost $1,000 a bottle.”
But Alito disagreed, describing a “modest” fishing lodge in Alaska as “a comfortable but rustic facility,” serving “homestyle fare.”
“I cannot recall if (we were) served wine, but if there was, it was certainly not wine that costs $1,000,” he added.
Current rules require justices to disclose all gifts that exceed $415, but the standards around gifts such as travel or lodging remain unclear.
Yet Sheldon Whitehouse, the Democratic senator from Rhode Island, thinks that the undisclosed trip crosses a clear line.
She wrote on Twitter that the “empty seat trick” excuse would not “fly” with the financial disclosure committee.
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