Billionaire Influence on SCOTUS Under Scrutiny

In the wake of unsettling revelations about the intertwining of big money and Supreme Court justices, Senate Democrats are now shifting focus to the man pulling the strings behind the curtain: the conservative judicial puppeteer and dark money maestro, Leonard Leo.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island), chair of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Federal Courts, and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, have this week taken decisive action. They’ve instigated an investigation into Leo and two conservative billionaires, Paul Singer, and Robin Arkley II, suspected of financially cozying up to Justice Samuel Alito.

The Senators are calling for a complete disclosure of all gifts and favors provided by Leo and the billionaires to Alito and other Supreme Court Justices. They believe if the Court won’t clean its own house, then Congress must. They’re pushing for rigorous ethics regulations at the Supreme Court and Congress’s oversight authority to enforce them.

Reports have unveiled that Alito and Justice Clarence Thomas have both received substantial, undisclosed gifts. According to investigations, in 2008 Singer extended Alito an all-expenses-paid trip on his private jet to an Alaskan fishing lodge—a gift worth over $100,000 one-way. Once there, Alito was permitted to stay at the lodge for free, courtesy of Arkley. Arkley had also previously offered free travel and accommodation to the late Justice Antonin Scalia. None of these gifts were declared, a fact that flies in the face of the Supreme Court’s disclosure requirements.

The scrutiny of Leo’s influence within the U.S. judiciary system comes as his extensive sway over conservative politics is increasingly illuminated. Whitehouse has consistently challenged Leo, co-chair of the Federalist Society and one of today’s most influential political figures, especially within the judicial sphere. Leo’s vast network and influence seem to be at the heart of recent exposés about corruption within the Supreme Court.

His role seems to be orchestrating introductions between right-wing justices and deep-pocketed conservatives, creating a quid pro quo exchange of wealth for influence over the Supreme Court. Recent conservative rulings on critical issues such as abortion, LGBTQ rights, student loans, climate, and the environment appear to bear the fingerprints of Leo’s manipulative matchmaking.

Public interest advocates insist it’s high time for Congress to cast a spotlight on Leo’s part in the Supreme Court’s ongoing ethical crisis. With corruption apparently rife in the Supreme Court, and Chief Justice Roberts turning a blind eye, it’s clear that Congress must step up. Transparency, accountability, and reform can’t wait.

Senate Democrats have already asked billionaire Harlan Crow for a full account of his gifts to Justice Thomas, following another report exposing Thomas’s acceptance of lavish gifts from Crow, none of which were disclosed. When Crow dismissed the requests, he found himself facing a possible subpoena.