Alito, his friends and the student debt cases

US Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, center, and hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer, right, hold king salmon during a 2008 fishing trip in Alaska. The Student Borrower Protection Center said the right-wing justice “must immediately recuse” due to his ties to a billionaire with connections to opponents of student debt relief. Photo obtained by ProPublica.

‘This is corruption’: Alito urged to recuse from student debt cases over billionaire ties

by Jake Johnson — Common Dreams

US Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito on Wednesday faced calls to recuse himself from two high-profile cases that will soon decide the fate of President Joe Biden’s student debt cancellation plan after a ProPublica report revealed the judge’s ties to Paul Singer, a billionaire with financial connections to right-wing groups backing efforts to block relief for tens of millions of borrowers.

In a letter to Alito on Wednesday, the Student Borrower Protection Center (SBPC) noted that Singer—a hedge fund tycoon whose private jet flew Alito to Alaska for a fishing trip in 2008—has “direct and indirect financial ties” to parties in Biden v. Nebraska and US Department of Education v. Brown, cases brought by opponents of student debt cancellation.

“The US Department of Education v. Brown litigants, student loan borrowers named Myra Brown and Alexander Taylor, were identified by a shadowy nonprofit organization known as the Job Creators Network,” SBPC’s letter states. “This entity, which advocates for extreme, right-wing positions on a range of issues, has been the recipient of an undisclosed amount of financial support from right-wing donors and has used these resources to publicly wage the legal fight to dismantle student debt relief.”

SBPC’s letter points out that the Judicial Crisis Network—a right-wing group that counts Singer as a major donor—”has provided at least $150,000 in direct financial support to the Job Creators Network since 2015, including $50,000 in 2020.”

“Dark money moves in the shadows. Alito’s SCOTUS gutted any guardrails around money in politics,” said Mike Pierce, SBPC’s executive director. “We don’t know everywhere Singer’s billions flow. But we do know that Singer has been linked to the Judicial Crisis Network.”

Additionally, the group’s letter highlights the fact that the Manhattan Institute—a conservative think tank whose board of trustees Singer chairs—”filed a consolidated amicus curiae brief urging the Supreme Court to strike down student debt relief.”

“Taken together, these direct and indirect ties to parties and amici in these lawsuits raise significant questions about your ability to remain impartial, particularly given your documented history as a beneficiary of Mr. Singer’s largesse,” reads the new letter to Alito. “There is only one path forward: you must recuse yourself in both Brown and Nebraska.”

The letter was sent hours after ProPublica published a bombshell story on Alito’s previously undisclosed 2008 trip to Alaska on Singer’s private jet—an excursion organized by Leonard Leo, the longtime head of the Federalist Society who has played a central role in the rightward shift of the US judiciary.
Following the 2008 trip, Alito did not recuse from cases involving Singer’s hedge fund.

ProPublica’s reporting prompted fresh outcry over the Supreme Court’s lack of a binding code of ethics, which has opened the door to what critics say is flagrant corruption. In April, ProPublica revealed that Justice Clarence Thomas has been secretly accepting luxury trips from conservative billionaire Harlan Crow, also a right-wing megadonor, for more than two decades.

“The Supreme Court is mired in an ethical catastrophe that threatens its fundamental credibility,” Brett Edkins, managing director of policy and political affairs for the progressive advocacy group Stand Up America, said in a statement Wednesday. “Once again, a conservative Supreme Court justice has been discovered to have accepted luxury travel and gifts from an ultrarich GOP donor with business before the court.”

The high court is expected to hand down its hugely consequential ruling on the Biden administration’s student debt relief plan before the end of the month as advocates work to highlight the fundamental flaws in the plaintiffs’ case for blocking relief.

During oral arguments in February, Alito joined his fellow right-wing justices in expressing skepticism over the administration’s plan, rehashing the debt cancellation opponents’ insistence that the program is unfair to those who wouldn’t directly benefit from the relief.

SBPC argued Wednesday that by Alito’s own professed ethical standards, he should not be participating in the debt relief cases.

In its letter to Alito on Wednesday, SBPC cites the judge’s statement during his 2006 confirmation process that his “personal practice” is to recuse from cases in which “any possible question might arise” regarding his impartiality.

“The appearance of corruption—your ties to Mr. Singer, and his ties to organizations with business before the court in Brown and Nebraska—clear the high ethical bar you established for yourself,” the letter states.


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