Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito accepted a 2008 trip to a luxury fishing lodge in Alaska from two wealthy Republican donors, one of whom repeatedly had interests before the court, and he did not disclose the trips on his financial disclosure for that year, ProPublica reports.
A story published late Tuesday by the nonprofit investigative journalism organization states that in July 2008 Alito flew to a remote corner of Alaska aboard the private plane of businessman and Republican donor, Paul Singer. A hedge fund founded by the billionaire has brought roughly a dozen cases before the court since then, ProPublica reported. Alito did not recuse himself from participating in any of those cases.
Alito’s three-day stay at the King Salmon Lodge was paid for by another wealthy donor, Robin Arkley II, the owner of a mortgage company then based in California. Leonard Leo, then a leader of the conservative legal group The Federalist Society, helped make arrangements for the trip, including securing a spot for Alito aboard Singer’s jet, which would have cost Alito at least $100,000 if he chartered the jet himself, ProPublica reported.
Supreme Court justices, like other federal judges, are required to file annual financial disclosure reports, which ask them to list gifts they have received. However, the high court is not subject to a binding code of conduct that applies to lower court judges, giving individual justices latitude to write and enforce their own rules.
Alito vigorously disputed the findings in a Wall Street Journal opinion article released before ProPublica published its story, stating he faced no obligation to disclose the details of the trip or recuse himself from cases involving Singer’s hedge fund.
“My recollection is that I have spoken to Mr. Singer on no more than a handful of occasions, all of which (with the exception of small talk during a fishing trip 15 years ago) consisted of brief and casual comments at events attended by large groups,” Alito wrote. “On no occasion have we discussed the activities of his businesses, and we have never talked about any case or issue before the court.”
“As for the flight, Mr. Singer and others had already made arrangements to fly to Alaska when I was invited shortly before the event, and I was asked whether I would like to fly there in a seat that, as far as I am aware, would have otherwise been vacant. It was my understanding that this would not impose any extra cost on Mr. Singer,” Alito wrote.
The revelation about Alito’s acceptance of the trip comes as the court is facing heightened scrutiny over issues of ethics, including the justices’ obligation to disclose the details of expense-paid travels. That’s led Democrats in Congress to call for legislation that would impose binding ethics rules on the court.
ProPublica previously reported that Justice Clarence Thomas accepted decades of undisclosed trips from a longtime friend, Republican megadonor Harlan Crow, that included stays at Crow’s private resort, flights aboard his jet, and a vacation aboard Crow’s yacht in Indonesia. Crow also purchased property from Thomas and paid private school tuition for a Thomas nephew whom the justice helped raise.
Since the passage of a Watergate-era law, the justices are supposed to report gifts they receive. But both Thomas and Alito have argued that a “personal hospitality” provision in the law exempts them.
In March, the federal judiciary increased disclosure requirements for all judges, including the high court justices, although overnight stays at personal vacation homes owned by friends remain exempt from disclosure.
The lodge where Alito stayed often drew celebrities and wealthy businessmen and typically charged guests $1,000 a night.
A picture from the trip published by ProPublica shows Alito in hip waders with a fishing guide, posing with a massive king salmon. On another day, the group flew aboard a bush plane to a waterfall in Katmai National Park, where bears snatch salmon from a waterfall.
At night, the group dined on king crab legs or Kobe beef. One member of the group boasted that the wine they were drinking cost $1,000 a bottle, one of the lodge’s fishing guides told ProPublica.
But Alito wrote that the accommodations were far less opulent, calling the lodge “comfortable but rustic.”
“I cannot recall whether the group at the lodge, about 20 people, was served wine, but if there was wine it was certainly not wine that costs $1,000,” he wrote.