Supreme Court Junket King Scalia Dies While Vacationing with Wealthy Patrons at Private West Texas Getaway
It’s appropriate that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died at a luxury resort while freeloading as the guest of wealthy sponsors as one of 40 participants at a private quail-hunting vacation party.
The resort where he died, Cibolo Ranch Resort, located on land stolen by its founder from the Apache and Comanche people in the Big Bend region of west Texas, is a posh retreat favored by the ultra rich, offering rooms priced from $350 to $800 a night -- and the bed Scalia died in was the top-priced presidential suite, as he was the guest of honor. He needed no credit card to check in either, since he and the other guests at the gathering reportedly had their bills covered by the resort's owner, John Poindexter, a mullti-millionaire real estate owner, rancher and former investment banker.
The acerbic, blunt-speaking Scalia made his name as a High Court judge accepting freebies from wealthy businesspeople and right-wing outfits like the Federalist Society, even accepting free trips and vacation junkets from the likes of the aptly-titled “Vice” President Dick Cheney back in 2004 when Cheney had a case pending before the court involving an effort to force the VP to disclose what oil company executives had attended a closed meeting in his office on energy policy early in the first term of the Bush-Cheney administration. (Scalia, notably, did not recuse himself from hearing that case.)
We don’t at this point know what Scalia’s final junket was about -- Poindexter makes a point of saying it "wasn't about politics or law" -- but it’s no surprise he wasn’t there on his own dime. That wasn’t the way Scalia operated. Indeed, so egregious and frequent were Scalia’s junkets that in October 2015 the New York Times wrote an editorial condemning them and calling for a reform to make such legalized bribery illegal.
Supreme Court justices, unlike members of Congress, don’t need to report such things as who takes them on luxury hunting trips. They are simply required under a vague judicial ethics standard to recuse themselves when they themselves feel they have a conflict of interest. Scalia made it abundantly clear, during his record 30-year tenure on the Supreme Court bench, that he did not feel getting freebies from the wealthy, affect his his judicial judgement even when his benefactor had a case pending before him.
Now that Scalia is gone, it will be interesting to see what Justice Clarence Thomas will do. Thomas, who slavishly emulated his mentor Scalia both in his voting on almost all cases brought to the High Court during his 25 years on the bench, and in taking every advantage of free vacations offered by wealthy right-wing businesspeople like the Koch brothers and others. How will Thomas vote now on cases, without Scalia to guide him? Will he glom on to another surviving right-wing jurist -- perhaps Samuel Alito?