October 6, 2023

Durbin, Whitehouse Release Letter from Billionaire’s Lawyer Citing Justice Alito’s Public Comments as Justification for Stonewalling Congressional Oversight

Justice Alito’s inappropriate opining used as cover for billionaires trying to avoid providing information about financial relationships with right-wing Justices

Washington, DC – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Courts Subcommittee, today released the following statement after receiving a letter from a billionaire’s lawyer citing Justice Alito’s comments as justification for declining to substantively respond to congressional oversight requests:

“This letter from one of the billionaires who has been swarming around the Supreme Court demonstrates why Justice Alito’s public comments were clearly unethical.  Justice Alito’s opining is being used as cover for billionaires to obstruct Congress’s legitimate oversight duties and ultimately block inquiry into undisclosed gifts and travel received by Justices Alito and Thomas.  The Committee will continue to investigate these ethical violations.  In the meantime, the public deserves answers from the Court on Justice Alito’s conduct.”

The correspondence from billionaire David Sokol’s counsel was sent in response to a recent request from Durbin and Whitehouse as part of an ongoing oversight investigation.  Sokol’s lawyer claims, “We can discern no plausible connection between an enumerated power and imposing an ethics code on the Supreme Court. . . . Indeed, as the Committee certainly knows, Justice Samuel Alito recently made this same point: ‘No provision in the Constitution gives [Congress] the authority to regulate the Supreme Court – period.’”

Congress has a well-established role in oversight of the judiciary and updating ethics laws that apply to federal officials, including justices and judges.  Congress passed the Ethics in Government Act, which the justices are subject to, and created through statute the Judicial Conference, which administers that law.

Whitehouse filed a complaint with Chief Justice Roberts last month in response to Justice Alito’s public comments opining on the constitutionality of Whitehouse’s Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency (SCERT) Act, which would reform the Court’s lax ethics rules.  The SCERT Act passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in July. 

Days after the Senate Judiciary Committee passed Whitehouse’s SCERT Act, Justice Alito, in a bizarre interview with Leonard Leo’s lawyer David Rivkin, stated: “I know this is a controversial view, but I’m willing to say it.  No provision in the Constitution gives [Congress] the authority to regulate the Supreme Court—period.”  The interview was published as an editorial piece on the Wall Street Journal editorial page.  Justice Alito’s comments to Rivkin track closely to what Rivkin argued to the Judiciary Committee on Leo’s behalf after Whitehouse and Durbin wrote to Leo and several of his billionaire partners seeking to identify the full extent of payments or gifts of travel and lodging given to Supreme Court justices.  Leo and three different right-wing billionaires’ lawyers have objected to congressional inquiries into their undisclosed gifts to right-wing justices, citing the same theory Justice Alito offered in his Wall Street Journal editorial page opinion.

Justice Alito’s comments followed revelations that he accepted but did not disclose gifts of luxury travel and exclusive lodging from right-wing billionaires, one with business before the Supreme Court.

ProPublica’s reporting in August revealed that Justice Clarence Thomas failed to disclose lavish gifts from billionaire benefactors, including oil baron Paul Novelly and Sokol, a former top executive at Berkshire Hathaway.  According to the report, Justice Clarence Thomas accepted but did not disclose free travel on private jets, helicopters, and yachts; lodging at commercial properties; and exclusive tickets and passes to high-profile sporting events.  Whitehouse and Durbin wrote to Novelly and Sokol requesting an itemized list of gifts given to any Justice of the Supreme Court or a Justice’s family member.

The letter from Sokol’s lawyer can be found here.

Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921

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Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921