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Alito Says Investment Cases Did Not Violate Ethics Rules

November 11, 2005|Tom Brune | Newsday

WASHINGTON — Responding to nagging ethical questions, Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr. on Thursday defended his decision as a judge to hear two appeals that involved his investment firms, even though he had said he would avoid such cases.

Alito laid out his case in a two-page letter, saying he had not violated ethical or legal obligations and adding that he had set the bar too high in a 1990 pledge to the Senate during his confirmation hearings for the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals.

Some Democrats complained that Alito had only added another layer to a series of confusing, changing explanations.

In the letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), Alito said, "To the best of my knowledge, I have not ruled in a case for which I had a legal or ethical obligation to recuse myself during my 15 years on the federal bench."

He acknowledged that he ruled in a 2002 case involving Vanguard, in whose mutual funds he has invested more than $400,000, and a 1997 case involving Smith Barney Inc., through which he also invests.

But he said he did not have to recuse himself because he had "no financial interest in the outcome" of either case.

As to his pledge to the Senate in a 1990 written questionnaire, Alito said the question asked for potential conflicts during his "initial service" as a judge.

"As my service continued, I realized I had been unduly restrictive on my 1990 questionnaire," Alito wrote.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), an Alito backer, said the letter made clear there was "no basis for any claim of impropriety."

But one Democratic committee staffer called the letter "another in a series of evolving explanations," and said it failed to address many questions. In the letter, for example, Alito does not repeat the excuse he has given many senators in recent meetings that a computer glitch failed to screen out Vanguard.

Alito has offered different reasons for why he ruled on the Vanguard case but stepped aside when the losing side challenged his participation.

Meanwhile, Alito's letter did not address a third case of potential conflict, reported Thursday by the Boston Globe, in which he participated in turning down an appeal to the full court in a case involving his sister's law firm.

Alito was officially nominated by the White House on Thursday to succeed Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

Senate confirmation hearings are scheduled for Jan. 9.

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