‘Political Retaliation’: Conservative Legal Group’s Co-Chair Fires Back At Dem Senators’ SCOTUS Ethics Inquiry

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Federalist Society Co-Chairman Leonard Leo told two Democratic senators Tuesday that their request for information surrounding his interactions with Supreme Court justices “appears to be political retaliation.”

Democratic Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin sent a letter on July 11 to Leo requesting information relating to his interactions with and gifts given to Supreme Court justices. Leo’s lawyer responded Tuesday, informing the senators in a letter that their inquiry “exceeds the limits placed by the Constitution on the Committee’s investigative authority.”(RELATED: Most Ethics Experts Cited In ProPublica’s Reports On Conservative SCOTUS Justices Donated To Dems, Left-Wing Causes)

“By selectively targeting Mr. Leo for investigation on a politically charged basis, while ignoring other potential sources of information on the asserted topic of interest who are similarly situated to Mr. Leo but have different political views that are more consistent with those of the Committee majority, your inquiry appears to be political retaliation against a private citizen in violation of the First Amendment,” Leo’s lawyer, BakerHostetler Partner David Rivkin, wrote in the letter. “For similar reasons, your inquiry cannot be reconciled with the Equal Protection component of the Due Process Clause Of the Fifth Amendment.”

“And regardless of its other constitutional infirmities, it appears that your investigation lacks a valid legislative purpose, because the legislation the Committee is considering would be unconstitutional if enacted,” the letter continues.

The Federalist Society has been credited with helping former President Donald Trump develop his list of potential judicial nominees. A number of his appointees are former members of the group, including Supreme Court justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.

Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced Whitehouse’s Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency (SCERT) Act in a 11-10 party line vote after a heated markup meeting, where Republicans accused Democrats of attempting to delegitimize and intimidate the Supreme Court based on their disagreement with its recent decisions.

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The initial request sent by Whitehouse and Durbin was prompted by a ProPublica story on an Alaska trip Justice Samuel Alito took in 2008, which Leonard Leo attended and helped arrange. The senators sent similar requests to hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer, who provided the private jet Alito flew on, and mortgage company owner Robin Arkley II, who provided the fishing lodge.

The letter highlights remarks previously made by the senators, such as Whitehouse’s attack on “creepy rightwing billionaires who stay out of the limelight and let others— namely, Leonard Leo and his crew” who operate a scheme “to capture and control our Supreme Court.”

“This campaign of innuendo and character assassination has now moved beyond speeches and disparaging soundbites,” the letter says.

It also highlights the “one-sided” nature of the investigation, noting instances of Democrat-appointed justices similarly accepting personal hospitality or gifts that were “ignored,” such as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg accepting a $1 million award from the Berggruen Institute and donating it to charities that mostly remain unknown.

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