The investigative outlet ProPublica reported late Tuesday that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito took an undisclosed private jet flight to Alaska in 2008 with billionaire Paul Singer, whose hedge fund repeatedly had business before the high court in subsequent years.
Alito refused to answer questions for the ProPublica story, opting instead to pen a Wall Street Journal opinion piece attempting to prebut the outlet’s contention that his private jet trip with Singer was likely a violation of a federal law requiring Supreme Court justices to disclose most gifts.
The conservative justice insisted there was nothing untoward about the private jet flight to Alaska; his stay at a commercial fishing lodge owned by Robin Arkley II, a donor to the right-wing legal movement; or his decision not to disclose them. Alito wrote that he was “invited shortly before” the fishing trip—without mentioning by whom—and “was asked whether I would like to fly there in a seat that, as far as I am aware, would have otherwise been vacant.”
Notably, Alito also omitted the detail that Leonard Leo, co-chair of the conservative Federalist Society and a key figure in the decades-long effort to pull the U.S. judiciary to the right, helped organize the Alaska trip. A. Raymond Randolph, a conservative appellate judge, also attended.
According to ProPublica, Leo “invited Singer to join” and asked the hedge fund tycoon “if he and Alito could fly on the billionaire’s jet.”
“Leo had recently played an important role in the justice’s confirmation to the court,” ProPublica reported. “Singer and the lodge owner were both major donors to Leo’s political groups.”
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), a longtime critic of the Supreme Court’s complete lack of binding ethical standards, argued in a series of tweets late Tuesday that Alito’s attempted prebuttal of ProPublica‘s reporting is riddled with holes.
“He just happened to be flying to Alaska and there just happened to be a private jet going to Alaska with an empty seat, and he just happened to find that out, like on some weird billionaire shared-ride Uber?” Whitehouse asked. “Oh, and would that ’empty seat’ trick fly with legislative or executive ethics disclosures? (Hint: no.) And how about with the Financial Disclosure Committee? (Right, you didn’t ask.)”
“This just keeps getting worse,” the senator added.
ProPublica‘s reporting on Alito—who authored the 2022 ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade—comes weeks after the outlet revealed that another right-wing justice, Clarence Thomas, has been taking billionaire-funded trips for decades without disclosing them.
A common thread in the reporting about the two high court judges is Leo, who five years ago attended a vacation with Thomas at billionaire Harlan Crow’s lakeside resort in upstate New York.
In a statement to ProPublica, Leo declared that he would “never presume to tell” the conservative judges “what to do, and no objective and well-informed observer of the judiciary honestly could believe that they decide cases in order to cull favor with friends, or in return for a free plane seat or fishing trip.”
ProPublica reported Tuesday that Singer “has repeatedly asked the Supreme Court to rule in his favor in high-stakes business disputes.”
The outlet detailed the most prominent example:
His hedge fund, Elliott Management, is best known for making investments that promise handsome returns but could require bruising legal battles…
Singer’s most famous gamble eventually made its way to the Supreme Court. In 2001, Argentina was in a devastating economic depression… Unemployment skyrocketed and deadly riots broke out in the street. The day after Christmas, the government finally went into default. For Singer, the crisis was an opportunity. As other investors fled, his fund purchased Argentine government debt at a steep discount.
Within several years, as the Argentine economy recovered, most creditors settled with the government and accepted a fraction of what the debt was originally worth. But Singer’s fund, an arm of Elliott called NML Capital, held out. Soon, they were at war: a midtown Manhattan-based hedge fund trying to impose its will on a sovereign nation thousands of miles away.
The fight played out on familiar turf for Singer: the U.S. courts. He launched an aggressive legal campaign to force Argentina to pay in full, and his personal involvement in the case attracted widespread media attention.
In 2007, for the first but not the last time, Singer’s fund asked the Supreme Court to intervene. A lower court had stopped Singer and another fund from seizing Argentine central bank funds held in the U.S. The investors appealed, but that October, the Supreme Court declined to take up the case.
In 2014, years after the Alaska fishing trip, “the Supreme Court finally agreed to hear a case on the matter,” specifically “how much protection Argentina could claim as a sovereign nation against the hedge fund’s legal maneuvers in U.S. courts,” ProPublica reported.
Judicial Crisis Network, a right-wing group with connections to Leo, filed a brief in support of Singer’s fund.
“The court ruled in Singer’s favor 7-1 with Alito joining the majority,” ProPublica reported. “The justice did not recuse himself from the case or from any of the other petitions involving Singer.”
In his Journal op-ed, Alito claimed he wasn’t aware of Singer’s connection to the case, even though his role was well publicized.
Singer also has connections to a high-profile Supreme Court fight involving the Biden administration’s plan to cancel student debt for many borrowers.
The Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank that Singer chairs, has filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging justices to block the debt relief plan, ProPublica reported.
“If the Supreme Court kills student debt cancellation nobody can pretend the court has an ounce of legitimacy,” the Debt Collective tweeted Wednesday. “Singer became a billionaire buying debts for pennies on the dollar and then weaponizing the courts to collect the full amount from the poorest people. Alito must recuse.”
MSNBC‘s Mehdi Hasan added that “in any just world, and in any world in which Dems could do politics, there would be calls tonight for both Alito and Thomas to resign from the Supreme Court—and calls for impeachment if they refused to do so.”
“But in our real world,” Hasan lamented, “they won’t even be subpoenaed by the Senate.”