ProPublica, which is a left-wing reporting outfit, has made a living on reporting on issues important to liberal and left-wing readers, such as environmental and social justice topics. It has turned its attention to the U.S. Supreme Court and singled out the court’s originalist, conservative justices.
First, ProPublica criticized Clarence Thomas over his friendship with wealthy Republican donor Harlan Crow. Thomas has vacationed with Crow over the course of their friendship, which included trips on a private yacht and private jet that did not come at an additional cost to the taxpayer. ProPublica accused Thomas of flaunting ethics disclosures required of Court justices, which he disputed and said that none of these private trips violated Court ethics.
Then, it attacked Samuel Alito for similar reasons, such as going on a trip paid for by a wealthy individual named Paul Singer.
Alito pre-empted ProPublica’s hit piece by writing an editorial in the Wall Street Journal, which editorial was published before ProPublica made their accusations public. Alito said that none of ProPublica’s accusations were valid because he did not have to disclose trips involving “personal hospitality” (according to the Court’s ethics guidance) and did not have to recuse himself because he knew Singer personally. Alito emphasized that his trip did not burden taxpayers because it was already paid for by Singer and there is no conflict-of-interest because he never heard a case where Singer was a party to.
Defenders of Thomas, Alito, and the Court point out that the ethics disclosure guidelines are complex, difficult to understand, and do not require justices to disclose personal trips unless it involves being compensated for speeches or incurs costs to the taxpayer. By these standards, Thomas and Alito did not violate the Court’s ethics, which contradicts ProPublica’s allegations.
Yet ProPublica does not criticize the liberal justices on the Court, such as Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Ketanji Brown-Jackson. It has not published any scathing criticism of the liberal justices over their issues in publicly disclosing trips and the like. For example, Brown-Jackson amended her financial disclosures in September 2022 to include compensation for teaching law seminars and the like, which highlights the convoluted and confusing nature of ethics disclosures for sitting Supreme Court justices.
ProPublica’s criticisms can be considered as part of a wider effort by the Left to delegitimize the Court, encourage Congress to seize power over the Court, and push President Joe Biden to “pack the court” with their preferred liberal activist judges. But the Left’s anti-Court efforts are likely unconstitutional, as these actions would violate existing checks and balances enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and the fact that the previous court-packing attempt by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt did not hold up under scrutiny.
Also, it is important to remember that the Left pressured Thomas to stop teaching a law seminar at George Washington University last summer, which reinforces the idea that the Left is going full-court-press to neutralize originalist thinking on the Court.