Justice Samuel Alito refused Friday to recuse himself from an upcoming Supreme Court case, even though one of the attorneys in the suit published fawning profiles of him in The Wall Street Journal.
The reason? Recusing from cases that involve longtime colleagues would “disrupt” the Supreme Court’s work, Alito argued.
Senate Democrats warned Chief Justice John Roberts last month that Alito had violated ethical standards by sitting for two Wall Street Journal interviews with lawyer David Rivkin, because Rivkin was also representing a couple asking the Supreme Court to review a tax case. But Alito pushed back Friday, arguing that recusing himself would actually be detrimental to the high court’s work.
“When Mr. Rivkin participated in and co-authored the articles, he did so as a journalist, not an advocate,” Alito said in a statement.
“We participate in cases in which one or more of the attorneys is a former law clerk, a former colleague, or an individual with whom we have long been acquainted. If we recused in such cases, we would regularly have less than a full bench, and the Court’s work would be substantially disrupted and distorted.”
It’s highly unusual for justices to sit for interviews. But Alito has regularly given preferential treatment to the Journal’s editorial page, which is known for its ultraconservative leaning. In one of the interviews with Rivkin and Journal editorial page features editor James Taranto, Alito argued Congress has no “authority” to require the justices to adopt a formal code of ethics. Both articles were published in the Journal’s opinion section and praised Alito’s work. In yet another op-ed, which Alito wrote himself, he tried to defend accepting luxury vacations from conservative donors.
The justices’ behavior has come under intense scrutiny following the revelations that Alito and Clarence Thomas have accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of vacations and other gifts from Republican donors over the years. Neither justice disclosed any of the gifts.
The Supreme Court has operated since its creation without a formal code of ethics, and largely without supervision. Congress has begun to push for legislation that would require the bench to adopt a formal code, but many of the justices—Alito in particular—have been resistant.