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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says ‘dark money’ sways the Supreme Court

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) speaks at a press conference outside of the U.S. Capitol on July 20, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Kevin Dietsch
Getty Images North America
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) speaks at a press conference outside of the U.S. Capitol on July 20, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Two top Democrats on the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, Jamie Raskin of Maryland and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, will host a Capitol Hill roundtable today, June 11, 2024, at 4 p.m. ET.

They say it will examine an “ethics crisis” within the U.S. Supreme Court, and discuss the ways that megadonors and dark money are “corrupting” the judicial system.

“The fact that millions of dollars of undisclosed gifts are funneling directly to the conservative justices is, in and of itself, a crisis,” Ocasio-Cortez told NPR’s Morning Edition. 

In November, all nine justices signed a first-ever code of conduct. The code was adopted after conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito were criticized for failing to disclose gifts and travel from Republican donors.

“The mere appearance of being exposed or connected to any party in a judicial proceeding or in a court proceeding, in a way, is in and of itself compromising,” Ocasio-Cortez, the vice ranking member of the oversight committee, said in her interview with Michel Martin.

The following excerpt has been lightly edited for clarity. 

Michel Martin: What's your single biggest concern surrounding the Supreme Court?

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: I think my single biggest concern is that there is a very clearly laid out dark money network that surrounds our court justices. And due to the complete lack of ethics enforcement around the Supreme Court, we are seeing a disturbing pattern in which the court's context, particularly around justices that have been receiving these largely, until now, largely unreported gifts, millions of dollars worth of gifts in the case of Justice Clarence Thomas, and the way that that is affecting, not just their rulings and their opinions, but also their procedural decisions around the court as well. And that, in turn, is affecting our rulings on everything from Dobbs and the overturning of Roe v. Wade to environmental provisions, labor and more.

Martin: What's the chicken and what's the egg here? The implication here is that these justices are ruling the way they are because these donors are giving them these gifts. Why couldn't it be the other way that they're giving them these gifts because they know [how] they're going to vote on these issues to begin with?

Ocasio-Cortez: Even the fact that that kind of defense is invoked is in and of itself a problem. Why are Supreme Court justices, who are in charge of some of the most important, consequential decisions facing millions of Americans, receiving millions of dollars worth of gifts from undisclosed sources? And if this was a situation that was so above board, why did it go so long without documentation and flouting ethics rules? To me, I think that the greater problem here is and there, once upon a time, and even in the lower courts, has been a long standing practice and a long standing frankly ethical standard, that regardless of the causality, regardless of the chicken or the egg, the appearance, the mere appearance of bias, or the mere appearance of being exposed or connected to any party in a judicial proceeding or in a court proceeding in a way, is in and of itself compromising.

Martin: Is it your contention that this is mainly a Republican problem or is this a court problem?

Ocasio-Cortez: Writ large, we believe that these ethics rules need to be changed to apply to the entire court and to all members. However, what the conservative wing of the court is engaged in, which I think is particularly concerning, is a documented pattern of receiving funds from individuals and organizations that have business before the court.

Ally Schweitzer and Jan Johnson edited the broadcast version of this story.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Destinee Adams
Destinee Adams (she/her) is a temporary news assistant for Morning Edition and Up First. In May 2022, a month before joining Morning Edition, she earned a bachelor's degree in Multimedia Journalism at Oklahoma State University. During her undergraduate career, she interned at the Stillwater News Press (Okla.) and participated in NPR's Next Generation Radio. In 2020, she wrote about George Floyd's impact on Black Americans, and in the following years she covered transgender identity and unpopular Black history in the South. Adams was born and raised in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.