Alito defends decision tied to his brokerages

November 11, 2005|By NEWSDAY

WASHINGTON — Responding to nagging ethical questions, Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr. defended yesterday 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 that 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.

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, 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 as a nominee for the court 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.

But one Democratic committee staff member called the letter "another in a series of evolving explanations" and said it failed to address many questions.

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