Dem Senator: Scalia accepted over 70 undisclosed gifts similar to Clarence Thomas

Dem Senator: Scalia accepted over 70 undisclosed gifts similar to Clarence Thomas
Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Image via Flickr.

U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) has revealed the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia also accepted and did not disclose dozens of trips paid for by special interest advocates, in a similar fashion to the decades-worth of undisclosed luxury travel, vacations, and trips Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomastook.

In video that has gone viral on social media – over 1.6 million views in less than 24 hours – Senator Whitehouse says Scalia took “more than seven dozen” of these undisclosed vacations.

“The personal hospitality problems I’ve been pursuing began with Justice Scalia, who took more than seven dozen undisclosed hunting vacations. Most people know of two, the one where he was on the Air Force Two manifest with Dick Cheney and the one where he died,” Sen. Whitehouse said in his remarks during Tuesday’s Judiciary Committee hearing on Supreme Court ethics.

Scalia, a hard-core conservative, died in February of 2016 during a quail hunting vacation, reportedly “at an $800-per-night Texas hunting lodge among still-unknown companions,” a lodge owned by the chairman and CEO of a multi-billion dollar manufacturing company.

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Calling Scalia’s vacation gifts “systematized,” Whitehouse, who has been focused on judicial reform for years, revealed there had been “seventy-plus,” and explained the process the justice would use to get invited.

“Some intermediary would ask the owner of an expensive resort, often a commercial property, to extend to Scalia a personal invitation to the resort, even where the owner was someone he’d never met. Scalia treated it as ‘personal hospitality’ because of the ‘personal’ invitation, and failed to disclose the vacations,” Whitehouse said. “Gun industry advocates, fossil fuel folks, and Republican political figures often tagged along.”

“No reasonable reading of the term ‘personal hospitality’ (we’ve covered this,) but the Supreme Court let this go on for years,” said Whitehouse.

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Legal experts have said that under the law, Supreme Court justices do not have to disclose gifts of vacations, like the ones Thomas and Scalia took, as long as they are gifts from personal friends at their personal homes. But they do have to disclose gifts of travel. Some believe any gift that might suggest the possibility of an appearance of impropriety should be disclosed.

“Private jet travel is not in the personal hospitality exemption,” Whitehouse said, “which is limited to food, lodging and entertainment.”

Whitehouse then revealed – with ten exhibits – how he has investigated these gifts; gifts, in Thomas’ case, which some are now referring to as “graft” and “corruption.”

“When I challenged the court about this practice, (exhibit one,) I got a blow-off letter, (exhibit two.) Basically, ‘nothing to see here.’ So then I asked the circuit courts what they thought about this conduct,” Whitehouse said, stating out of 13 inquiries he received zero responses.

“So I then sent another letter saying I hope their silence didn’t indicate some kind of coordinated obstruction (exhibit four.) I also scheduled a subcommittee hearing. Presto, I was told the Financial Disclosure Committee would examine how the exemption was interpreted,” Whitehouse said. “Almost a year later, two weeks before the recent news about Justice Thomas broke, the Judicial Conference updated its guidance to clarify that this sort of non-disclosure violates the law (exhibit six.)”

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He says no judge outside of the Supreme Court has “ever used the personal invitation trick,” because a complaint would be investigated and would become “embarrassing.”

“Only Supreme Court justices refused to allow their conduct to be investigated or reviewed. My bill would fix that,” he says.

Last month a former chief counsel to Sen. Whitehouse, Alex Aronson, writing in Slate, further detailed how Scalia’s scheme worked:

“Retired federal Judge Charles Pickering, Scalia’s frequent hunting facilitator, explained: ‘After it got out that if you took him hunting or fishing that he would come speak, he started getting invitations all over the place.’ For example: hearing that Scalia would ‘do anything if you take him hunting,’ Texas lawyer and Republican mega-donor Mark Lanier chartered a plane to take Scalia boar hunting on a private ranch following a speech he gave at Lanier’s alma mater, Texas Tech. As was typical, Scalia’s financial disclosure revealed only that he had received ‘transportation, food, [and] lodging’ for ‘Lectures,’ with Texas Tech as the sole reimbursing party.”

Whitehouse also spends several minutes in the video discussing Justice Thomas’ scandal, and then, turning back to Scalia, asks: “So what became of the 2011 referral? Did anyone intervene? Is the committee still considering the 2011 referral more than a decade later?”

We apparently do not know.

Watch Sen. Whitehouse below or at this link.

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