New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez criticised Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito on Friday, after the high court jurist claimed the US court was above any regulation from Congress.
Democrats in the Senate have been pushing for a new law that would require the Supreme Court to adopt a binding ethics code and new enforcement regulations to assure justices stick to it, after a bruising series of ethics scandals on the nation’s top appellate court.
“What a surprise, guy who is supposed to enforce checks and balances thinks checks shouldn’t apply to him,” Ms Ocasio-Cortez wrote on social media. “Too bad! Corruption and abuse of power must be stopped, no matter the source. In fact, the court should be *most* subject to scrutiny, bc it is unelected & life appointed.”
The pushback was in response to recent comments Mr Alito gave in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, where the right-leaning judge said, “I know this is a controversial view, but I’m willing to say it…No provision in the Constitution gives them the authority to regulate the Supreme Court – period.”
“The court’s financial disclosure requirements are a law, passed by Congress; its recusal requirements are a law, passed by Congress; and the body that implements financial disclosure and code of conduct issues is the Judicial Conference, a body created by Congress,” Rhode Island senator Sheldon Whitehouse said earlier this month.
“Please let’s not pretend Congress can’t make amendments to laws Congress has passed or oversee agencies Congress has created,” he said.
Mr Alito was in the spotlight last month after ProPublica revealed the justice had travelled to a fishing trip in a remote part of Alaska onboard a private jet belonging to billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Singer, a wealthy Republican donor who’s had cases before the Supreme Court.
The trip wasn’t disclosed on Mr Alito’s yearly financial forms, a potential violation of federal law, though he disputes he did anything wrong.
Earlier this year, another Republican-appointed judge, Clarence Thomas, found himself facing similar allegations of improper conduct.
ProPublica detailed longstanding ties between him and Harlan Crow, another conservative-leaning billionaire.
Mr Crow took Mr Thomas around the world on lavish vacations, and bought over $133,000 dollars’ worth of property from the justice. These ties were also not disclosed.
The ensuing scandal, in which Mr Thomas insisted he did nothing wrong, seemed to trigger an avalanche of issues at the court.
Jane Roberts, wife of Chief Justice John Roberts, has also come in for scrutiny for her business activities.
Between 2007 and 2014, she made more than $10m working as a legal recruiter, matching attorneys with top firms, at least one of which argued before her husband, Insider reported, citing information from a whistleblower complaint.
The windfall made her one of the highest-paid legal recruiters in the country at the time.
“When I found out that the spouse of the chief justice was soliciting business from law firms, I knew immediately that it was wrong,” the whistleblower, former colleague Kendal B Price, told the outlet.
“During the time I was there, I was discouraged from ever raising the issue. And I realized that even the law firms who were Jane’s clients had nowhere to go. They were being asked by the spouse of the chief justice for business worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, and there was no one to complain to. Most of these firms were likely appearing or seeking to appear before the Supreme Court. It’s natural that they’d do anything they felt was necessary to be competitive.”
Ms Roberts’s firm at the time said in a statement to the outlet she maintained “the highest standards: Candidate confidentiality, client trust, and professionalism”.
One of the high court’s liberals has also come under fire.
Elena Kagan was a speaker at a 2017 event in Aspen, nicknamed “billionaire mountain”, where members of the Aspen Institute could pay $10,000 a year for a membership in the Justice Circle, where high-profile legal minds would speak at exclusive conclaves.
At these events, corporate executives and lawyers, some of whom had business with the court, interacted with the justices, reported the outlet.