Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr. said yesterday that he did nothing improper when he ruled in cases involving two financial firms in which he held accounts, although he had told the Senate 15 years ago that he would step aside in matters involving the companies.
Alito, trying to quell conflict-of-interest issues raised by liberal opponents, said he had been "unduly restrictive" in promising in 1990 to recuse himself in cases involving Vanguard Group Inc. and Smith Barney Inc. After the Senate confirmed him as an appellate judge and when he subsequently ruled on routine cases involving the two companies, he said, he acted properly because his connections to the firms did not constitute a conflict of interest under the applicable rules and laws.
Alito had at least $390,000 in Vanguard mutual funds when he ruled in a 2002 case that favored the company. After a party to the suit complained, he stepped aside and another panel of judges reheard the case. Alito also ruled in a 1996 case involving Smith Barney, which was his brokerage firm.
The Supreme Court nominee's comments, made in a two-page letter to Senate Judiciary Committee members, differed from the White House's explanations of his actions. The White House said last month that a courthouse "computer screening program" had failed to alert Alito to step aside in the Vanguard case. Alito made no reference to computers in yesterday's letter. He said he went further than he needed to in 1990 when he promised to avoid ruling in cases involving Vanguard and Smith Barney.
federal laws regarding conflict of interest are fairly strict. i'm no legal expert, so i have no idea whether scalito technically broke these laws or not. even if there wasn't a conflict by those legal standards, there was definitely an appearance of conflict of interest, and scalito should've recused himself for that reason alone.
but as john at americablog points out, whether he actually broke those laws is not the point. i pick up a lot of stories from americablog but i rarely actually quote from them. today i will, because i think john has this exactly right:
The issue here isn't whether Alito was or wasn't required, under court rules, to recuse himself from these cases. The issue is that Alito promised, seemingly under oath, NOT to hear these cases, period - but then went ahead and heard them anyway. That's a lie. It's also possibly perjury. And at the very least, it suggests he intentionally misled the Senate Judiciary Committee ON THREE SEPARATE OCCASIONS in order to get confirmed.
As for Toobin's second argument, that the reason the case came to Alito was perhaps a computer glitch, again that's not the issue. The question is not HOW the cases came to Alito, the question is WHY Alito didn't recuse himself, as promised under oath, AFTER the cases came to him, regardless of how they came to him.
In the Vanguard case, Alito went out of his way to argue that there was no reason he should have to recuse himself. Not only does that negate the computer glitch argument - it doesn't matter how Alito got the case, he was perfectly happy KEEPING the case and argued that he should keep the case. But what's more, Alito actually had the nerve to argue that there was no reason to recuse himself from this case when there was a very good reason - he had previously promised to recuse himself, under oath.
Again, it's nice to split hairs about whether Alito was "legally" required to recuse himself under court rules dealing with conflicts of interest, etc., but that's not the issue here. The issue is that Alito promised, we assume under oath, to recuse himself in order to convince Senators to confirm him. Then after Alito got confirmed - bam! - he turned around and broke his promise, and hear the case anyway. And not just once, but three times.
The man is a liar, quite possibly a perjurer, and at the very least he's someone with a proven track record of saying anything to Senators in order to be confirmed. There is now no reason any Senator should vote for Alito based on any testimony he gives before the Senate, or anything he says to them in private. Alito is not a man of his word.
do we really want to reward this kind of lying? what kind of message would it send if the senate allowed a known perjurer to ascend to the supreme court? think of the ramifications. perjury is a method of subverting the legal system. scooter libby was indicted for perjury and immediately resigned his post in the executive, and yet when scalito perjurs, he is rewarded with a seat on the supreme court? that's like electing an anarchist to be president: it makes no sense. it's absurd on its face.¶