Guest Commentary: The Supreme Court Has Gone Fishing

By Marc Bookman

It’s impossible to find the bottom these days. One outrageous story bleeds into another, and lies that pile up like cordwood obscure earlier mendacities that seemed like whoppers at the time but quickly gave way to even greater scandals. Such is the case with the recent revelation of Justice Alito’s luxury fishing trip, bought-and-paid-for by a rich Supreme Court litigant. While it may be shocking to the uninformed, it’s about as surprising as a sunrise to anybody paying attention over the last few decades.

Since memory fades, let’s recap. In 2004, Justice Scalia flew down to Louisiana on a government plane to go duck hunting with Vice President Dick Cheney, who had a case in front of the Supreme Court. Refusing to recuse himself, Scalia broke it all down to money:

[T]hough our flight down on the vice president’s plane was indeed free, since we were not returning with him we purchased (because they were least expensive) round-trip tickets that cost precisely what we would have paid if we had gone both down and back on commercial flights. In other words, none of us saved a cent by flying on the vice president’s plane.

Shockingly (or maybe not so shockingly), there was very little indignance about the more obvious question: Wait, a Supreme Court Justice goes duck hunting with the Vice President? Weren’t we taught something about the separation of powers in elementary school? And then Scalia played the victim card: “While the political branches can perhaps survive the constant baseless allegations of impropriety that have become the staple of Washington reportage, this court cannot. The people must have confidence in the integrity of the justices, and that cannot exist in a system that assumes them to be corruptible by the slightest friendship or favor, and in an atmosphere where the press will be eager to find foot faults.” In other words, if you catch us being unethical, it’d be better if you’d keep your mouth shut, or else the public will start to think that we’re unethical.

Well, time’s a wasting, so let’s skip ahead to our more recent scandals:

  1. Chief Justice Roberts’s wife apparently bringing in more than $10,000,000 in commissions by headhunting for lawyers who would be appearing before her husband;
  2. Justice Thomas’s dear friendship with right wing billionaire and Nazi artifacts collector Harlan Crow, which began in childhood, during college, as a lawyer after Thomas ascended the High Court and yielded free tuition for his nephew, home improvements, and extravagant vacations—you know, the sort of gifts anyone might accept with the understanding that there are no strings attached. How dare you suggest otherwise? And most recently…
  3. Justice Alito’s undisclosed luxury fishing trip with a hedge fund billionaire who regularly has cases pending at the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, Poughkeepsie Bankruptcy Court the Supreme Court. Providing fodder for late night comics, Alito explained that there was no reason for him to report his travel on a private jet because he took “a seat that, as far as I am aware, would have otherwise been vacant.” This explanation is particularly galling: The billionaire might well have invited someone from the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation had Justice Alito been busy with… Court stuff.

Then there’s this last bit of news we learned about Alito’s fishing trip—he’s knowledgeable about wine. “As I recall, the meals were home-style fare. I cannot recall whether the group at the lodge, about 20 people, was served wine, but if there was wine it was certainly not wine that costs $1,000.” Who knew? On the bright side, this most recent scandal helps us forget last year’s allegations that Justice Alito leaked his opinions to right-wing leaders, and that Justices Alito and Scalia invited those same right-wing leaders to attend Supreme Court arguments in special seats: “We were invited to use seats from Nino and Sam. Wow!” Wow indeed.

But what does any of this have to do with the death penalty, you ask? Even though these justices might appear beholden to right-wing interests, and those right-wing interests have been keeping capital punishment afloat for years, the justices could still be analyzing, without fear or favor, each individual claim that comes before them. After all, an appearance of impropriety doesn’t mean that there actually is impropriety. Maybe it’s just a coincidence that Justices Thomas, Scalia, Roberts, and Alito consistently vote against indigent defendants appearing in the Supreme Court, especially when it comes to death penalty cases. Maybe. But we prefer the great writer Vladimir Nabokov when it comes to coincidence: “A certain man once lost a diamond cuff-link in the wide blue sea, and twenty years later, on the exact day, a Friday apparently, he was eating a large fish—but there was no diamond inside. That’s what I like about coincidence.”

Marc Bookman is director of Atlantic Center for Capital Representation Inc in Philadelphia.  Originally published by Atlantic Center for Capital Representation Inc in Philadelphia.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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  1. Walter Shwe

    Republican corruption on the SCOTUS runs deep.

    Exhibit 1: Republican Clarence Thomas

    The Origins of Our Investigation Into Clarence Thomas’ Relationship With Harlan Crow

    The lavish travel, real estate deal and tuition arrangements have set off a frenzy. Here’s where our reporting started and how we got the story.

    Exhibit 2: Republican Samuel Alito

    Justice Samuel Alito Took Luxury Fishing Vacation With GOP Billionaire Who Later Had Cases Before the Court

    Exhibit 3: Republican Chief Justice John Roberts

    Chief Justice John Roberts’ Wife Made Over $10 Million As Legal Consultant, Report Says

    Jane Roberts, the wife of Chief Justice John Roberts, made more than $10 million in commissions over an eight-year stretch where she matched top lawyers with elite law firms—including some that had cases before the Supreme Court—according to documents obtained by Insider, as concerns grow about justices possibly having unreported conflicts of interest.

      1. Walter Shwe

        Supreme Court justices, minus Thomas, and Alito, file financial disclosure reports
        Thomas’s disclosure form had been eagerly awaited in the wake of news reports that documented previously undisclosed luxury travel worth hundreds of thousands of dollars paid for by Republican megadonor Harlan Crow, as well as other gifts and real estate deals with Crow.
        But none of that was forthcoming on Wednesday, nor was any financial information from Justice Alito, who in previous years was the only justice to own lots of different stocks, as opposed to professionally managed mutual funds.

  2. Keith Olsen

    The recent attacks against SCOTUS are being orchestrated by left wing organizations and donors:

    First, the outlet ProPublica began publishing a series of pieces “exposing” the well-known fact of Justice Clarence Thomas’ long-running friendship with billionaire real estate tycoon Harlan Crow, and alleging ethical improprieties pertaining to the justice’s purported failure to disclose certain information. Second, Politico alleged a conflict of interest for Justice Neil Gorsuch in an old real estate transaction in his native Colorado that involved the CEO of a major law firm. Third, Business Insider relied on a “whistleblower” to allege corruption on the part of Jane Roberts, the wife of Chief Justice John G. Roberts, due to her being a well-compensated legal recruiter. Fourth, The New York Times ran a lengthy and meandering front-page story about the at-times coziness between George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School and some of the Court’s right-of-center justices.
    Each and every one of these collusive “gotcha” pieces is left-wing disinformation at worst, and grossly misleading at best.

        1. Keith Olsen

          Are the views and opinions of Josh Hammer wrong?

          Why don’t you scrutinize the left leaning citations from other commenters like you do mine?

          1. David Greenwald

            Hammer also wrote: “The current disinformation operation thus amounts to one big, crass intimidation tactic—a flexing of muscle by what the late Andrew Breitbart famously called the “Democrat-media complex.””

            “Why don’t you scrutinize the left leaning citations from other commenters like you do mine?”

            Isn’t that your job?

        2. Keith Olsen

          “Why don’t you scrutinize the left leaning citations from other commenters like you do mine?”
          Isn’t that your job?

          I don’t have the power to delete someone’s comment because I deemed their cited source to be”not a legitimate news source”. 

          So that’s not my job.  Do you want to give me that power?

          I don’t work for free.


    1. Walter Shwe

      It’s a copy and paste from Josh Hammer.

      Thank you Don for the ultimate source to Keith Olson’s comment. I have put a “hammer” in Keith’s rebuttal.

  3. Ron Oertel

    Walter:  Given your recent comments (e.g., white people “cannot cut the mustard” in regard to relative lack of representation at universities), I would think that you’d be a supporter of (at least) that decision (rejection of affirmative action at universities).

    And I would agree with you – even if affirmative action helped “white people” to gain acceptance at universities above Asians, for example.

    1. Dave Hart

      I’m a supporter of eliminating affirmative action at universities for legacy enrollees or for anyone who is simply willing to pay extra.  Let those people prove their academic and social merit.

      1. Keith Olsen

        I’m a supporter of eliminating affirmative action at universities for legacy enrollees or for anyone who is simply willing to pay extra.  Let those people prove their academic and social merit.

        I agree with Dave Hart.  Dave are you also a supporter of eliminating affirmative action based solely on someone’s race too?

      2. Ron Oertel

        I’ve forgotten the terminology for this, when “one side” points to the “other side”, (e.g., regarding classified documents found in a garage or at a home, etc.).

        At which point, it usually descends into, “but your guy took more”, or some other b.s. (Yes, yes – I’m sure that Trump did, and is much more defiant.)

        But in this case, the argument is totally irrelevant. It’s an attempt to distract, which I’ve seen before (including on this blog).

        Ultimately, you either support quotas based upon skin color, or you don’t.  And apparently, the majority of California voters don’t.  And those voters include quite a few “people of color” (e.g., Asians, Hispanics, . . .)

        Ask ANY parent if they want to see their kid lose-out on admission to a preferred university, a job, or any other competitive opportunity based upon their skin color.

        But now that you mention it, how about those “cash cows” (International students, who supposedly pay full tuition costs at UCD)?

        And yet – probably aren’t down at the local council, complaining about housing costs (or spending all their money on “avocado toast”). Yes, the latter is a joke – probably with very little basis in reality. (Other than for those living at home, perhaps.)

        I’m starting to think that UCD should “only” admit wealthy International students.  Now THAT would probably solve a lot of problems. Set up a recruitment center in Dubai.



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