By Andrew Chung
(Reuters) -U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito on Friday rejected a push by Senate Democrats to have him recuse himself from a tax case that involves an attorney who interviewed him for a newspaper article and helped him "air his personal grievances."
Alito, in a statement attached to a routine order issued by the court in the case Moore v. United States, said, "There is no valid reason for my recusal in this case." Individual justices make recusal decisions for themselves.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin and nine other Democrats on the panel on Aug. 3 sent a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts asking him to ensure that Alito recuses himself in the case involving plaintiffs Charles and Kathleen Moore.
David Rivkin Jr., one of the attorneys for the Moores, helped interview Alito for articles that appeared in the Wall Street Journal's opinion section, including on July 28 when the justice said Congress lacks the power to regulate the court.
"Mr. Rivkin's access to Justice Alito and efforts to help Justice Alito air his personal grievances could cast doubt on Justice Alito's ability to fairly discharge his duties in a case in which Mr. Rivkin represents one of the parties," the senators wrote.
Alito, one of the six conservative justices on the nine-member court, said in his statement, "When Mr. Rivkin participated in the interviews and co-authored the articles, he did so as a journalist, not an advocate. The case in which he is involved was never mentioned; nor did we discuss any issue in that case either directly or indirectly."
The justice added, "We have no control over the attorneys whom parties select to represent them."
Durbin on Friday said Alito's refusal to step aside from the case underscored the need for Congress to ensure that the justices adopt an enforceable code of conduct.
Alito, Durbin said in a statement, "surprises no one by sitting on a case involving a lawyer who honored him with a puff piece in the Wall Street Journal. Why do these justices continue to take a wrecking ball to the reputation of the highest court in the land?"
Rivkin did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The letter from the senators also suggested that Alito recuse himself in any future cases concerning legislation that regulates the court after he told the Journal, "No provision in the Constitution gives them the authority to regulate the Supreme Court - period."
Following revelations in recent months concerning undisclosed luxury trips by private jet and real estate transactions by some of the justices, the committee in July approved and sent to the full Senate a Democratic-backed bill that would mandate a binding ethics code for the nation's highest judicial body.
Given Republican opposition, the bill has little chance of becoming law.
(Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York; Editing by Grant McCool and Will Dunham)