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Thursday, November 10, 2005 

Alito and Recusal

The Senate Democrats try to attack Alito for a conflict of interest in a case involving Vanguard. Vanguard is a mutual fund firm that Judge Alito used. Alito maintains that there was nothing unethical about ruling on the case. Ronald Rotunda, one of the top legal ethicists in the country, agrees with him.

Rotunda states that there is no statute or rule that would demand recusal on Alito's part. He states...
The judge's ownership of shares in a mutual fund... is not an ownership interest in the Vanguard Company itself anymore than my ownership of a savings account makes me an equity owner of the Savings Bank.

Rotunda elaborates...
Judge Alito's decision in a case that a pro se litigant filed and lost at every level, was not a case where the outcome of the proceeding could "substantially effect" the value of his Vanguard mutual funds.
Basically, the worth of Alito's mutual funds were not tied to how he ruled in the case. There is a distinction between the firm itself and the funds that the firm puts together.

After the pro se litigant lost, she demanded that Alito recuse himself. He didn't have to (as Rotunda points out), but he did anyway. The case was heard by a new panel and decided the same way.

Legal ethics can be confusing, even to people who have a pretty good understanding of it. There are small variations in facts that can result in totally different resultant actions by the attorney/judge. I think that Alito went above and beyond what he was ethically obligated to do in this situation. He played it safe and recused himself, and he should get credit for that. I doubt the Senate Democrats will be as generous as I am.
"I asked him a lot of questions about Vanguard and there are going to be more," said Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis.
I'm sure my favorite senator will read Rotunda's analysis... and ignore it. Rusty has no problem distorting the records of judicial nominees. He did a wonderful hatchet job on Judge Bill Pryor (halfway down the post) during his hearings. I wonder if Feingold has looked into Alito's Disney World travels yet...

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