In This Episode
Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito failed to disclose a luxury fishing trip he took in 2008 with hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer and did not recuse himself from later cases involving Singer, according to a new report from ProPublica. Instead of responding to ProPublica’s questions directly, Justice Alito penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal ahead of the report’s publication defending his actions. We’re joined by Leah Litman, professor of law at the University of Michigan and co-host of Crooked’s Strict Scrutiny podcast, to talk about the ethical violations and possible consequences for Justice Alito.
And in headlines: rescuers were in the final, critical hours of searching for the missing tourist submersible near the wreckage of the Titanic Wednesday, a federal judge struck down Arkansas’ ban on gender-affirming care for trans youth, and the Federal Trade Commission is taking Amazon to court.
- ProPublica: Justice Samuel Alito Took Luxury Fishing Vacation With GOP Billionaire Who Later Had Cases Before the Court – https://www.propublica.org/article/samuel-alito-luxury-fishing-trip-paul-singer-scotus-supreme-court
- Wall Street Journal (Opinion): Justice Samuel Alito: ProPublica Misleads Its Readers — https://www.wsj.com/articles/propublica-misleads-its-readers-alito-gifts-disclosure-alaska-singer-23b51eda
- Tre’vell Anderson at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures — https://tinyurl.com/357cfpx5
- What A Day – YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/@whatadaypodcast
Priyanka Aribindi: It’s Thursday, June 22nd. I’m Priyanka Aribindi.
Juanita Tolliver: And I’m Juanita Tolliver. And this is What A Day where we are reeling about reports that Marjorie Taylor Greene allegedly called Lauren Boebert a little bitch on the House floor.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, and by reeling, we mean like, opening the popcorn. Sitting back here, relaxing, getting comfortable. Pour us the wine. This is like a TGIT. I like it.
Juanita Tolliver: It’s truly the best birthday gift ever. Keep it coming. [laughter] [music break]
Priyanka Aribindi: On today’s show, a federal judge struck down Arkansas’s ban on gender affirming care for trans youth. Plus, the FTC is taking Amazon to court.
Juanita Tolliver: But first, Justice Samuel Alito is the newest ProPublica investigation subject. And the scandal is so bad that he made a futile effort to pre-butt the report with an op ed in The Wall Street Journal, of all places. Because, of course, that’s where you go to convince your ultra wealthy friends that you did absolutely nothing wrong and to explain your scandal before we even know exactly what happened.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, just extremely normal behavior. Nothing [laughter] to see here at all. Not completely batshit crazy.
Juanita Tolliver: It’s giving avert your eyes look away. [laughing] Right? Well, ProPublica came with receipts, pictures and legal back up on Alito’s billionaire funded trip to Alaska that featured $1,000 bottles of wine which apparently tasted like trash, $1,000 per night hotel rooms and martinis made with glacier ice. Yes, glacier ice. Not to mention that same billionaire Paul Singer is affiliated with firms that have had legal proceedings before the Supreme Court, which Alito did not recuse himself from. I swear these justices can not be trusted. And ProPublica clearly needs to start a private investigator firm because they’re just too good at this shit!
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. I’m sorry. If I was another justice on this court, I would be shaking in my boots because ProPublica, you know, ProPublica is coming for any bad behavior that there could possibly be. They will find it.
Juanita Tolliver: Any bad behavior, any beyond absurd behavior like this. And when you consider that Justice Alito, along with Justice Clarence Thomas, who has his own billionaire sugar daddy, they both recently requested extensions on their disclosure filings for this year. And it’s giving ring the alarm because what else are they hiding?
Priyanka Aribindi: Seriously.
Juanita Tolliver: To dig into this and all of the ethical violations that come with it, we talked with Leah Litman, professor of law at the University of Michigan and co-host of Crooked’s Strict Scrutiny podcast. We started by asking Leah to break down Alito’s prebuttal and all of the findings featured in the ProPublica report.
Leah Litman: We first learned that ProPublica was about to have a story describing some luxury vacations, personal jet trips and other largesse uh bestowed on Justice Alito um when a curious thing appeared on the Wall Street Journal’s homepage, namely an op ed–
Priyanka Aribindi: Hmm.
Leah Litman: –written by Samuel Alito.
Juanita Tolliver: [?].
Leah Litman: The author by line noted, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. [laugh] And the intro to this piece said ProPublica emailed the justice some questions, and he decided to set the record straight by pre-butting the story in the Wall Street Journal so–
Juanita Tolliver: I feel like that also gives new definition to going on the record in your own way, I guess. [laughter]
Priyanka Aribindi: Yes. Yes. Love that little editor’s note there. [laughter]
Leah Litman: Yes. So the justice has certainly created a lot of mystery surrounding who might have been leaking material to The Wall Street Journal specifically–
Juanita Tolliver: Gag.
Leah Litman: –about the court’s own internal deliberations. But uh we learned most recently that Justice Alito received a free personal jet trip to Alaska and a free fishing vacation and lodge stay. And the personal jet trip came from a hedge fund owner, Singer, who controlled Elliott Management. And Elliott Management owns this NML Capital and NML Capital, guess what? Had a case before the Supreme Court, that Justice Alito decided. During which NML Capital won. So Justice Alito has been taking free PJ trips from people with business before the court that he has not disclosed. But he will have, you know, from his Wall Street Journal prebuttal. This is fine, because if he hadn’t taken the trip, the personal jet seat would have been empty. Um.
Juanita Tolliver: Oh oh.
Leah Litman: So it just doesn’t count.
Priyanka Aribindi: Oh, it’s okay.
Juanita Tolliver: For the environment. [laughter]
Leah Litman: [?]. Yes. No, um obviously. I mean, you know, he also assuaged all of our concerns because he informed us that while an employee at the Lodge claimed that one of the guests said that the wine was over $1,000, it didn’t taste like $1,000 wine to him. And he would fucking know so.
Juanita Tolliver: My my palate–
Priyanka Aribindi: Good.
Juanita Tolliver: –is screaming.
Priyanka Aribindi: Good. [laughter] I’m so glad he thought to include these very pertinent details. But, you know. Beyond all that, what do you make of his decision to pre-butt this. One thing to not respond for comment, but to do this in The Wall Street Journal?
Leah Litman: You know, it is clear that the justices are concerned about their public approval ratings and the public’s perception of them, the rightful perception of them as ideological, as subject to influence campaigns, as subject to an appearance of bias and corruption. Right. And I think his temper tantrum. Right. Is just further evidence of that. Um. Second is, of course, this confirms the sort of evenhanded, even keeled, um nonpartisan, non ideological, very judicious behavior we’ve come to expect from Samuel Alito. Um. You know, going to an ideological friendly op ed page to pre-butt a piece in another journal is is very on brand, I would say.
Priyanka Aribindi: Very telling.
Juanita Tolliver: So he did it for concern of the public approval, but reiterated some of the concerns coming from the public in doing so. But I got to ask you. Bear with me Leah, because the whole world wants to know, have you ever been flown out by a billionaire and served a martini made from glacier ice?
Leah Litman: You know, I haven’t. And I’m starting to feel offended because, you know, I think if someone with the personality of Samuel Alito is getting free personal–
Juanita Tolliver: Why?
Juanita Tolliver: –jet trips and free lodge stays and like potentially $900, if not thousand dollar wine, and I’m not like, maybe I need to do some reflection.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah.
Juanita Tolliver: Uh. But in all seriousness, in your mind, how bad does this look for Justice Alito, especially compared to the earlier ProPublica reporting about Justice Clarence Thomas and his undisclosed vacations and gifts from Harlan Crow? Not to mention, both Alito and Thomas just recently requested extensions on their own disclosure filings for this year. So yikes.
Leah Litman: I mean, look, he had to polish off this op ed draft, right? He can’t do that and the financial disclosure form. So, you know, I’m sure that one’s coming. Um. I think this one is really bad. Um. I think his response to the piece only makes it worse. But, you know, he basically says in this response piece, you know, how am I supposed to know who has an interest in cases before the court? I hear so many of them. Right. And so few of them get the justice’s close personal attention. But this was a case the court heard in full, for oral argument, rendered a decision on. And still he couldn’t be bothered to figure out whether, you know, the owner of this hedge fund had a relationship to him. It is appalling. Right. And the disdain that he has for the public with the response that he put in the Wall Street Journal op ed pages is only exacerbating the problem. So I think it’s really bad.
Priyanka Aribindi: It is not only you. ProPublica ran this by several ethics law experts. Do you agree with the consensus there that Justice Alito broke federal law here with what he did?
Leah Litman: I think two things. Um. One is, you know, the ethics experts that ProPublica consulted are, as we’ve described on Strict Scrutiny, among the gold standards um in, you know, the ethical guidelines governing the justices. And I think, you know, Justice Alito’s defense underscores their point. You know, his excuse is I don’t have to disclose personal hospitality, and personal hospitality includes use of facilities. And then he says, if you look at a dictionary, the definition of–
Juanita Tolliver: Oh God.
Leah Litman: –facilities includes transportation, only the dictionary definition he cited doesn’t actually define facilities to include transportation. And in any case, a normie would be like, okay, you heard a case involving a guy where you took a free private jet trip out to Alaska and spent a weekend fishing at this exclusive resort. And of course, they would think that gives an appearance of bias. And, you know, Leonard Leo, the former person who was selecting, you know, judges for the Trump administration and a leader of the Federalist Society basically had to change the legal standard in order to defend Justice Alito’s actions. He said, well, only, you know, if you are a well observed, very like, knowledgeable person, you of course, wouldn’t think that this biased the justice. And it’s like, that’s not the legal standard. So it’s bad.
Priyanka Aribindi: It’s bad. So Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin said yesterday that the committee will vote on legislation to set some ethical standards for the courts when lawmakers come back from July 4th recess. But realistically, do you foresee any actual consequences here for Justices Alito or Thomas?
Leah Litman: I mean, it’s difficult to foresee consequences when you still are living in a world with the filibuster um because, you know, it’s not clear that there will be legislation resulting from this, you know, especially in the era of divided government. It’s possible, right? You can imagine a world in which the committee is actually willing to send out some subpoenas and potentially investigate whether the justices reported this as taxable income, you know, on their tax filings, because Justice Alito basically said, look, I accepted this personal jet ride from this guy I barely knew. And that makes it sound like that is income and not, you know, something from a friend, in which case he probably should have disclosed that on his taxes.
Priyanka Aribindi: Not holding my breath on that one.
Leah Litman: Right. Right. And so, like, those are the sorts of things where, you know, Senate committees, congressional committees could actually use their powers to hail a justice before them. You know, I’m not holding my breath for that either, but we’ll see.
Juanita Tolliver: That was our conversation with Leah Litman, professor of law at the University of Michigan and co-host of Crooked’s Strict Scrutiny podcast. And we will most definitely keep you posted on where this leads next. But as you heard, don’t hold your breath for any real consequences or changes. That’s the latest for now. And we’ll be back after these ads. [music break] [AD BREAK]
Priyanka Aribindi: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.
Priyanka Aribindi: As we went to record the show at 9:30 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday. Rescuers were in the final critical hours to find the missing tourist submersible near the wreckage of the Titanic. It’s believed that the vessel, if it’s still intact, is supposed to run out of breathable air early this morning, more crews with the U.S. and Canadian coast guards have since rushed to the vast search area in the North Atlantic after searchers picked up what they described as banging sounds underwater yesterday. It’s not clear if the sounds came from the sub itself. Officials themselves noted that there’s a lot of metal and other debris scattered across the area of the infamous shipwreck. But it did offer a glimmer of hope. Submarine crews are trained to bang on the hull of their vessel if communication systems go down because sonar can pick up on the sound as it travels through water. Meanwhile, the company behind the sub Ocean Gate expeditions is coming under intense scrutiny about the safety of its underwater craft, which feels like uh very warranted. But also, where was this before they left?
Juanita Tolliver: That part.
Priyanka Aribindi: In a 2018 lawsuit, the company’s former director of marine operations flagged several potential issues with the sub’s design, including a point that its single porthole window can only withstand about a third of the depth of where the Titanic rests. Not great, but we are very much keeping our fingers crossed for the safe return of these people. This is really scary.
Juanita Tolliver: In a major win for trans rights. A federal judge struck down Arkansas’s ban on gender affirming care for trans youth on Tuesday, ruling that it violates the U.S. Constitution. This is the first time a ban on gender affirming care has been officially overturned, and it’s fitting that it would happen in Arkansas, the state that became the first in the nation to have ever passed such a measure back in 2021. U.S. District Judge Jay Moody said in his ruling that the law violated the right to due process and equal protection for trans kids and their families. Moody also ruled that the law violated the First Amendment rights of medical providers in the state by keeping them from administering life saving expert approved care for trans youth. Moody had temporarily blocked the law before it took effect back in July of 2021, and Tuesday’s ruling ensures that it can never be enforced. 19 states have since followed suit with Arkansas and have enacted gender affirming care bans of their own over the past two years, most of which have been challenged in court. Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin said that he would appeal the ruling. We should have known that someone named Judge Moody, which sounds like Judge Judy’s progressive drag king alter ego would be a queer ally 100% fully believe it. Also, I hope Republicans were stupid as usual, and used a copy and paste method in those 19 other states because–
Priyanka Aribindi: Yes!
Juanita Tolliver: –hopefully those will be found unconstitutional as well.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yes, please. Just a little a little pride month treat for us all. Thank you–
Juanita Tolliver: Yes.
Priyanka Aribindi: –so much, District Judge Jay Moody. We are big fans. The FTC is taking Amazon to court. Yes, you heard that right. The Federal Trade Commission yesterday sued Amazon, alleging that the retail giant illegally coerced users into subscribing to its Amazon prime program, only to make it nearly impossible for them to cancel their membership later on. According to the lawsuit, Amazon, quote unquote, “knowingly complicated the prime cancellation process, forcing users to jump through several hoops to unsubscribe from the membership and costing them a good amount of money.” In fact, the FTC alleges that the company internally refers to its cancellation process as Iliad, seemingly referencing Homer’s super long epic about the Trojan War. They’re breaking out the ancient Greek poetry references. So, you know, it is serious business. In response, Amazon called the FTC’s allegations false and accused the commission of not giving the company enough notice before filing the lawsuit. Not exactly a great leg to stand on, but um sure. This is the first time that the FTC has taken Amazon to court under chairperson Linda Khan, a vocal critic of Amazon and other big tech companies. But Amazon has gotten in trouble with the agency before Khan’s tenure. Just last month, the retail giant agreed to pay out $25 million dollars to settle claims that its Alexa Home Services program illegally collected children’s data. Sorry, Amazon, but maybe the package got stolen from your doorstep.
Juanita Tolliver: Major yikes. The average test scores of 13 year olds in the U.S. have fallen for both reading and math. That’s according to a report released yesterday from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which found that scores dipped four points in reading and dropped nine points in math. The biggest drop in math scores in 50 years. This report compared testing scores from fall 2022 with those from the same period in 2019. You know, with a casual pandemic in the middle. It also showed widening gaps for math scores based on gender and race. While children from almost every race and ethnicity saw math scores decline, Black, Native American and low income students experienced the most significant drops. U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a statement that the results confirm the predictions that the pandemic would severely impact students’ school performance and that it will take years to reverse the damage. But other education experts cite even more factors attributing to these scores, including worsening mental health and unstable in-person school attendance. In times like these, we’re just grateful that Republicans are making banning books a top priority because, of course, that’s the goal here. But also I’m thinking about these 13 year olds and what work it’s going to take to get them back on track. And I hope they get all the help they need.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, seriously. And finally, the Virginia primary results are in and we have more updates for all of you. The AP reported that Republican state Senator Amanda Chase, who calls herself Trump in heels, lost to another conservative challenger, former state Senator Glen Sturtevant. Showcasing another example of Trumpian candidates coming up short in the polls. Democrats with similar records battled on local issues. And in another high profile race, state Senator Louise Lucas took the win over fellow State Senator Lionel Spruill. After debates over transportation, toll roads and state funded student aid for college. And Saddam Salim, a first generation immigrant and political activist, beat moderate Democratic Senator Chap Peterson. Peterson pissed off some liberal voters after he provided key votes for passing some of Governor Youngkins agenda items. Don’t know how he thought he was going to get away with that. All in all, not too shabby Virginia.
Juanita Tolliver: Right. Love the accountability there. But also, I just want to shout out Senator Louise Lucas, who posted a video with the lyrics Hoes Is Mad after she won her primary. Because that’s a vibe. Check my feed. It is there on Twitter.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, let’s keep it up. Let’s keep them mad. I like this energy. We’re into it. And those are the headlines.
Juanita Tolliver: [AD BREAK]
Priyanka Aribindi: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe. Leave a review. Keep overturning state bans on gender affirming care and tell your friends to listen.
Juanita Tolliver: And if you’re into reading and not just the Iliad process for canceling your prime membership like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Juanita Tolliver.
Priyanka Aribindi: I’m Priyanka Aribindi.
[spoken together] And give us some bribe money for a change.
Juanita Tolliver: You know.
Priyanka Aribindi: Seriously.
Juanita Tolliver: I’ll take a little bit of a trip you know I want to get flewed [SIC] out like the city girls.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah a little private plane action just you you take me and Juanita on your private plane.
Juanita Tolliver: Casual.
Priyanka Aribindi: Maybe you get an intro joke.
Juanita Tolliver: Right.
Priyanka Aribindi: All about you. That could be up for grabs.
Juanita Tolliver: Intro line is negotiable.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. We’ll talk, we’ll talk. [music break] What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Our show’s producer is Itxy Quintanilla. Raven Yamamoto and Natalie Bettendorf are our associate producers. Our intern is Ryan Cochran, and our senior producer is Lita Martinez. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.