Sen. Whitehouse blasts Alito speech: 'You have fouled your nest, not us'

Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Altria - Jan. 6 panel flexes its muscle Sen. Whitehouse blasts Alito speech: 'You have fouled your nest, not us' Breyer: Supreme Court 'fallible,' but has served US 'pretty well' MORE (D-R.I.) on Thursday pushed back forcefully against a speech by Supreme Court Justice Samuel AlitoSamuel AlitoLocked and Loaded: Supreme Court is ready for a showdown on the Second Amendment The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Altria - Jan. 6 panel flexes its muscle Sen. Whitehouse blasts Alito speech: 'You have fouled your nest, not us' MORE during which he depicted the high court as undeserving of recent scorn.

Whitehouse, a veteran member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and fierce critic of what he sees as the outsized influence of GOP donors in U.S. courts, said public disapproval was warranted. He also suggested Alito may be “touchy” because “his fingerprints are all over this pattern of Republican judicial activism.” 

“Understand that you have fouled your nest, not us,” Whitehouse wrote in a piece published by Salon. “The Supreme Court must now at least match every other political institution with a renaissance of transparency. Democracy demands it. And the Court That Dark Money Built has squandered the benefit of the doubt.”

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The senator’s fiery op-ed follows remarks Alito delivered last month at Notre Dame Law School in which the staunchly conservative justice bristled over recent criticism directed at the court.

The 6-3 conservative majority court’s approval rating saw a steep drop-off recently after several controversial, high-impact rulings were issued under its fast-track procedure, sometimes referred to as the court's “shadow docket.” Those included rulings that blocked federal eviction protections amid the coronavirus pandemic and permitted Texas’s divisive six-week abortion ban to take effect.

During his speech, Alito took particular exception to what he characterized as media distortions that feed into a false portrayal of the court as a “dangerous cabal.”  

But Whitehouse said the court’s deteriorating standing among the public has been largely self-inflicted. He ticked off a number of court rulings that he said demonstrates a pattern in which the court’s decisionmaking fits neatly with the interests of well-heeled Republican donors.

“The problem for Justice Alito's sense of grievance is that the evidence supports our concerns,” Whitehouse wrote. “Alito has participated in a pattern of decisions — like the court's recent 'shadow docket' ruling suspending abortion rights in our second-biggest state — that deliver wins for big Republican donors. 

“Americans' perception that the court lacks independence, and the court's related drop in approval, doesn't flow from some left-wing conspiracy,” he continued. “It's a recognition that the evidence shows a pattern whenever certain interests come before the court.”