Just days after ProPublica revealed U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s undisclosed lavish private jet trip, which was funded by a billionaire hedge fund owner with interests in Supreme Court cases, CNN has exposed Justice Amy Coney Barrett Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s “shady and corrupt” financial connections to the Religious Liberty Initiative (RLI) at Notre Dame Law School.
The new scandal, in the form of a real estate transaction, has raised concerns about ethics and transparency within the highest court. A government watchdog organization argues that either the judiciary or Congress must implement ethics reforms in light of the mounting evidence.
Shortly after Barrett’s confirmation in October 2020, a Notre Dame professor who had assumed a leadership role at RLI purchased her private residence.
The RLI, a proponent of religious freedom, was established in 2020 and has submitted numerous amicus briefs to the Supreme Court on topics like abortion, public health regulations, and school prayer. Since the sale of Barrett’s home, RLI has submitted at least nine briefs to the court.
This newly reported conflict of interest is just one among several that have recently come to light, drawing attention to the fact that Supreme Court justices are not obligated to adhere to an ethics code like their federal counterparts.
“The continuous revelation of shady and corrupt dealings within the Supreme Court only emphasizes the need for reform,” remarked Kyle Herrig, president of Accountable.US, the watchdog organization. “While every federal judge is expected to adhere to an ethics code that prohibits even the appearance of impropriety, Supreme Court justices are exempt. Chief Justice Roberts has the authority to change this, but he has yet to demonstrate the necessary resolve. If he fails to act, Congress must fulfill its duty.”
CNN’s report also disclosed that RLI financed Justice Alito’s trip to Rome, following the court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and restrict access to abortion. During his visit, the conservative justice disparaged critics of the ruling, despite international human rights experts condemning it as a violation of international law.
Alito has consistently ruled in favor of RLI’s positions as stated in their amicus briefs, and neither he nor Barrett has recused themselves from high-profile cases involving the organization.
In recent months, government watchdogs have called for accountability regarding alleged breaches of ethics and conflicts of interest within the Supreme Court. This includes scrutiny of Justice Clarence Thomas’ financial ties to Republican megadonor Harlan Crow.
Last month, Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing to advocate for legislation that would require the Supreme Court to adhere to an ethics code.
While Barrett’s real estate transaction may not have violated any regulations, Indiana University law professor Charles Geyh emphasized that it contributes to the perceived ethical issues surrounding the justices.
“The court should be more vigilant in addressing the perception problems arising from their financial activities,” Geyh explained to Accountable.US. “They should go the extra mile to ensure not only their actual integrity but also the perception of their integrity.”