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Whitehouse makes ethics complaint against Alito to Roberts

Whitehouse says Alito may be opining on an issue that could come before high court

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., speaks during the Senate Judiciary Committee mark up of his bill on Supreme Court ethical standards in July.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., speaks during the Senate Judiciary Committee mark up of his bill on Supreme Court ethical standards in July. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse filed an ethics complaint against Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., alleging he violated judicial standards, including when Alito said Congress doesn’t have the power to regulate the high court after the Senate Judiciary Committee approved an ethics bill.

The Rhode Island Democrat wrote to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. on Monday, citing a July interview Alito gave to The Wall Street Journal as the reason for the complaint. Whitehouse said Alito’s comments “appeared in connection to my Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency Act, which the Senate Judiciary Committee had advanced just one week before the publication of this interview.”

Whitehouse’s ethics bill would mandate that the court adopt a code of conduct for justices and establish protocols to investigate alleged misconduct; adopt rules for disclosure of gifts, travel and income for justices and law clerks at least up to the standards in Congress; and establish procedural rules making each party or amicus disclose gifts, income or reimbursement given to justices.

After reports by ProPublica that Justice Clarence Thomas had received undisclosed luxury travel from a GOP donor for decades and that Alito took an undisclosed fishing vacation paid for by a Republican billionaire who subsequently had cases before the Supreme Court, lawmakers called for tighter standards on the court.

Whitehouse said Alito’s comments to The Wall Street Journal appear to have violated judicial ethics by improperly opining on a legal issue that could come before the court. The complaint also noted that David Rivkin, one of the people who interviewed Alito for the report, is counsel for Leonard Leo, co-chairman of the conservative Federalist Society and who attended the Alaskan fishing vacation with Alito.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, on which Whitehouse sits, is examining Leo and billionaires’ ties with the justices.

Whitehouse alleged that Alito made his comments to the Journal “to give his friend and political ally support in his effort to block congressional inquiries.”

It’s unclear what, if anything, will come of Whitehouse’s complaint. “I request that you as Chief Justice, or through the Judicial Conference, take whatever steps are necessary to investigate this affair and provide the public with prompt and trustworthy answers,” Whitehouse wrote.

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