Legal experts are now questioning whether Supreme Court nominee and U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Samuel Alito did anything wrong in a case he presided over three years ago that involved Vanguard Group, according to the St. Louis Dispatch.
In 2002, Alito ruled against a woman who had filed suit against the Valley Forge, Pa., fund shop. He withdrew himself from the case after that first ruling. The ruling was reaffirmed without his participation. But before taking oath as an appeals judge, Alito said he would refrain from cases involving Vanguard, where he has significant investment.
Recent explanations from the White House have only further clouded the issue. They say that Alito's abstention promise only applied to his initial period of service on the court. They also say a "computer glitch" failed to flag Alito as a judge who should not hear the case. Alito has also flatly rejected claims that hearing the case was a conflict of interest, further pricking the ears of legal scholars.
"The explanation causes greater concern than the problem," said New York University law professor Stephan Gillers, who specializes in legal ethics. "It would have all gone away if Judge Alito had said, 'This was an oversight.'"
Doug Kendall, executive director of the Community Rights Counsel, called Alito's reply "inconsistent and somewhat incoherent."
Reportedly, Alito is a shareholder in 14 Vanguard funds, worth somewhere between $455,000 and $1 million.
The chief concern is what his recusal practices would be if confirmed to the Supreme Court. At that level, recusal is left to the discretion of the judge.
"This experience may have had a personally bruising effect on Judge Alito," Gillers said. "If he gets onto the court, he might err on the side of recusal to clear his name."