Justice Samuel Alito Took [Undisclosed] Luxury Fishing Vacation With GOP Billionaire Who Later Had Cases Before the Court - ProPublica

In early July 2008, Samuel Alito stood on a riverbank in a remote corner of Alaska. The Supreme Court justice was on vacation at a luxury fishing lodge that charged more than $1,000 a day … To his left, a man stood beaming: Paul Singer, a hedge fund billionaire who has repeatedly asked the Supreme Court to rule in his favor in high-stakes business disputes.

Singer was more than a fellow angler. He flew Alito to Alaska on a private jet. If the justice chartered the plane himself, the cost could have exceeded $100,000 one way.

In the years that followed, Singer’s hedge fund came before the court at least 10 times in cases where his role was often covered by the legal press and mainstream media. In 2014, the court agreed to resolve a key issue in a decade-long battle between Singer’s hedge fund and the nation of Argentina. Alito did not recuse himself from the case and voted with the 7-1 majority in Singer’s favor. The hedge fund was ultimately paid $2.4 billion.

Alito did not report the 2008 fishing trip on his annual financial disclosures. By failing to disclose the private jet flight Singer provided, Alito appears to have violated a federal law that requires justices to disclose most gifts, according to ethics law experts.

Leonard Leo, the longtime leader of the conservative Federalist Society, attended and helped organize the Alaska fishing vacation. Leo invited Singer to join, according to a person familiar with the trip, and asked Singer if he and Alito could fly on the billionaire’s jet. Leo had recently played an important role in the justice’s confirmation to the court. Singer and the lodge owner were both major donors to Leo’s political groups.

ProPublica sent Alito a list of detailed questions last week, and on Tuesday, the Supreme Court’s head spokeswoman told ProPublica that Alito would not be commenting. Several hours later, The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by Alito responding to ProPublica’s questions about the trip.

Alito said that when Singer’s companies came before the court, the justice was unaware of the billionaire’s connection to the cases. He said he recalled speaking to Singer on “no more than a handful of occasions,” and they never discussed Singer’s business or issues before the court.

In the last decade, Singer has contributed over $80 million to Republican political groups. He has also given millions to the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank where he has served as chairman since 2008. The institute regularly files friend-of-the-court briefs with the Supreme Court — at least 15 this term, including one asking the court to block student loan relief.

Singer’s interest in the courts is more than ideological. His hedge fund, Elliott Management, is best known for making investments that promise handsome returns but could require bruising legal battles.

The fund now manages more than $50 billion in assets.

Other guests on the trip included Leo, the Federalist Society leader, and Judge A. Raymond Randolph, a prominent conservative appellate judge for whom Leo had clerked, according to fishing licenses and interviews with lodge staff.

The justice’s stay was provided free of charge by another major donor to the conservative legal movement: Robin Arkley II, the owner of a mortgage company then based in California.

Alito did not disclose the flight or the stay at the fishing lodge in his annual financial disclosures. A federal law passed after Watergate requires federal officials including Supreme Court justices to publicly report most gifts.

As his political profile rose, Arkley bragged to friends that he’d gotten to know one-third of the sitting Supreme Court justices. He told friends he had a relationship with Clarence Thomas, according to two people who were close with Arkley. And the Alito trip was not Arkley’s first time covering a Supreme Court justice’s travel to Alaska.

In June 2005, Arkley flew Scalia on his private jet to Kodiak Island, Alaska, two of Arkley’s former pilots told ProPublica. Arkley had paid to rent out a remote fishing lodge that cost $3,200 a week per person, according to the lodge’s owner, Martha Sikes.

…Randolph, the appellate judge who was also on the later trip, joined Scalia and Arkley on the vacation, flying on the businessman’s jet.

Scalia did not report the trip on his annual filing, another apparent violation of the law, according to ethics law experts. … Scalia had a pattern of disclosing trips to deliver lectures while not mentioning hunting excursions he took to nearby locales hosted by local attorneys and businessmen, according to a research paper published after his death.

Randolph, now a senior judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, did not disclose the trip. (Nor did he disclose the later trip with Alito.)

It remains unclear how Scalia ended up in Alaska with Arkley. But the justice’s archives at Harvard Law School offer a tantalizing clue. Immediately before the fishing trip, Scalia gave a speech for the Federalist Society in Napa, California. The next day, Arkley’s plane flew from Napa to Alaska. Scalia’s papers contain a folder labeled “Federalist Society, Napa and Alaska, 2005 June 3-10,” suggesting a possible connection between the conservative organization and the fishing trip.

The contents of that folder are currently sealed, however. They will be opened to the public in 2036.

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Organizations: Supreme Court Federalist Society ProPublica Republican Party (GOP) Manhattan Institute Elliott Management 

People: Samuel Alito Paul Singer Leonard Leo A. Raymond Randolph Robin Arkley II Antonin Scalia 

Tags: Corruption Lobbying Student Loan 

Type: Headlines