Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, who has been at the center of a number of ethics controversies at the court recently, told the Wall Street Journal lawmakers need to give up on the idea of imposing new rules on the justices.
“No provision in the Constitution gives them the authority to regulate the Supreme Court — period,” he told a pair of interviewers for the business paper’s Opinion section in a piece that appeared Friday.
Alito, who authored the opinion in the Dobbs case that overturned Roe v. Wade, has been unusually active for a sitting federal judge in fending off claims of impropriety.
He went so far as getting the Journal to publish an op-ed he wrote defending himself against claims in a ProPublica story he had failed to disclose a gifted luxury trip and private jet travel — before ProPublica had even published the story.
In the interview published Friday, Alito said ordinarily, “the organized bar” of lawyers would defend the court against its critics. But he said that hasn’t been happening, “And, so at a certain point I’ve said to myself, nobody else is going to do this, so I have to defend myself.”
There’s been a lot to defend lately, as Alito and fellow conservative Justice Clarence Thomas have been accused of failing to properly report gifts on federal disclosure forms. Thomas, in particular, was reported by ProPublica to have accepted trips from Republican megadonor Harlan Crow for years.
The ethics disputes led Senate Democrats to consider requiring the Court to stick to stricter ethics standards, closer to those seen in the congressional and executive branches of the government.
On July 20, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) that would require the Supreme Court to adopt a code of conduct and create a process to investigate potential breaches.
Chief Justice John Roberts has said such changes aren’t needed, and the court could be trusted to self-regulate. But Alito’s comments appear to go much further, saying Congress cannot impose any requirements on the Supreme Court because it is part of an equal branch of government created by the U.S. Constitution.
Congress already controls one big aspect of the Supreme Court by setting how much it can spend annually, and the Constitution also notes its jurisdiction as a court of appeals is subject to “such regulations as the Congress may make.”
Whitehouse, in a post on social media, said one of two interviewers, who wrote that they sat with Alito for four hours in total over two sessions ending in early July, is part of an effort to block an investigation into Leonard Leo, co-chairman of the libertarian Federalist Society that has been influential in picking GOP nominees to the courts.
News site TPM said that lawyer David Rivkin regularly writes for the Opinion section but is also part of a team with law firm BakerHostetler LLP that has a big taxation case set to come before the court that could decide whether a wealth tax would be constitutional.
Whitehouse posted, “Shows how small and shallow the pool of operatives is around this captured Court — same folks keep popping up wearing new hats.”