- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 10, 2005

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter yesterday called on Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr. to “make a full public response” to Democratic accusations that a 2001 case he reviewed was a conflict of interest.

“In Supreme Court nominations, which are so important for so many reasons, we have seen issues which may be minor, unmeritorious, or even nonexistent, proliferate into major controversies by those who are opposed for other reasons,” Mr. Specter wrote Judge Alito, who sits on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In the case, Judge Alito joined a unanimous ruling in favor of the Vanguard Group, an investment firm that handles an account for the judge.

Judge Alito responded to the letter within hours, saying he was “committed to carrying out my duties as a judge in accordance with both the letter and the spirit of all applicable rules of ethics and canons of conduct.”

After he was challenged over the 2001 Vanguard case by the plaintiff, Judge Alito asked to be removed from the case. It was reassigned to a different panel of judges, which again ruled unanimously in Vanguard’s favor.

Democrats said the nominee clearly violated a promise he made during his 1990 confirmation process to recuse himself from such cases.

“I do not believe that conflicts of interest relating to my financial interests are likely to arise,” he wrote in a 1990 questionnaire. “I would, however, disqualify myself from any cases involving the Vanguard companies.”

In a 2004 interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, Judge Alito said his holdings — at the time worth between $390,000 and $975,000 — did not create a conflict because he is an investor through Vanguard rather than an owner of the company.

“They have $600 billion invested with them,” he said of Vanguard. “The idea that a case like this would affect that is just ludicrous.”

In his letter yesterday to Mr. Specter, Judge Alito said his statement 15 years ago pertained to his “initial service” on the federal appeals court.

“In responding to that question, my intention was to state that I would never knowingly hear a case where a conflict of interest existed,” he wrote. “I believe that my conduct has been consistent with the expectations I stated for how I would handle recusals during my initial service on the court of appeals.”

As his service continued, Judge Alito wrote, he decided he had been “unduly restrictive on my 1990 questionnaire because there was not a legal or ethical obligation under the applicable rules, statutes and the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges to recuse myself from every case involving the companies I listed.”

Democrats also have begun asking about two more cases involving parties to which Judge Alito had connections. One case involved his brokerage firm, Smith Barney, and another was a case in which the defendant was represented by the law firm where Judge Alito’s sister worked.

Democrats have not said that Judge Alito acted unethically, but they have raised questions about a pattern of such conflicts.

Even before Judge Alito’s response, Mr. Specter agreed that the nominee had done nothing wrong.

“Based on the judgements of two experts in judicial ethics which have been submitted to the Judiciary Committee, it is my conclusion that there has been no impropriety on your part,” he wrote in his letter yesterday.

Meanwhile, Judge Alito continued his private meetings with senators yesterday. Among those he met were Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, New Jersey Democrat who supported his nomination to the appeals court 15 years ago, and Sen. Herb Kohl, Wisconsin Democrat and member of the Judiciary Committee. Both gave positive through incomplete reviews of Judge Alito.

“You can’t ignore that there’s an abundance of talent in this individual,” Mr. Lautenberg said.

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