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Supreme Court Justices Not the Only Ones Offered Luxury Trips by UH Law School
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Supreme Court justices have long been enticed by all-expenses-paid luxury trips offered by various institutions, including the University of Hawaii Law School. For example, the University of Houston Law School has also provided such extravagant getaways. These trips, marketed as part of the Jurist-In-Residence program, have attracted justices with the promise of a paradise retreat.

In an email sent in 2010 by the then-Dean of the University of Hawaii Law School, Aviam Soifer, to Justice Sonia Sotomayor, he highlighted the positive experiences of previous justices who had participated in the program, including Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Anthony Kennedy, and Stephen Breyer. The email assured Justice Sotomayor that the school would cover first-class airfare, luxurious accommodations, and all other travel expenses. Soifer even humorously suggested that Justice Sotomayor should escape the icy winds of Washington and enjoy the warm comforts of paradise.

Teaching is encouraged as part of these trips to demystify the workings of the Supreme Court and expose the justices to a diverse range of individuals. Justices have been traveling globally during court recesses for decades to deliver lectures. This practice is permissible as long as their earnings from teaching remain below the court’s cap of around $30,000 for outside income.


See also: Supreme Court Justices: The Perks of Free Trips, Book Sales, and Fundraising Support

The Supreme Court, in response to inquiries, emphasized the $30,000 limit and stated that teaching engagements must be approved in advance by the Chief Justice or, in the case of the Chief Justice teaching, by the Associate Justices. However, documents obtained through public records requests reveal that some of these all-expenses-paid trips, such as those to Italy, Iceland, and Hawaii, allocate minimal time for classroom instruction, allowing ample leisure time for the justices.

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Gabe Roth, the executive director of Fix the Court, a nonpartisan watchdog group dedicated to monitoring the Supreme Court, criticized the level of luxury provided to the justices, stating that it appears to go beyond ethical boundaries.

While the justices are required to disclose some financial details on their annual financial disclosure forms, the specifics of these trips often remain hidden from public view. Some trips are subsidized by anonymous donors to the participating schools, making it difficult to assess their motivations.

The University of Hawaii defended its provision of first-rate accommodations, citing its geographic isolation from the continental United States as a reason to ensure the justices’ participation in the program. A spokesperson for the university expressed gratitude to the donors for their support.

The University of Hawaii Law School, like other institutions, arranges the program to cater to the preferences of the justices and their families. Emails exchanged before Justice Samuel Alito’s visit to Honolulu in 2011 demonstrate the school’s willingness to customize the schedule according to his preferences and accommodate activities such as golf, snorkeling, hiking, and canoe paddling. The justices who have participated in the program in recent years include Ginsburg, Kennedy, Alito, Breyer, Scalia, and Sotomayor.

Similar arrangements have been observed at the Antonin Scalia School of Law at George Mason University, where Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh joined the faculty after their appointments to the Supreme Court. While they reported their teaching contracts and compensation, the justices primarily taught courses abroad in locations such as Italy, Iceland, and England, with travel and living expenses covered by the university.

These teaching engagements coincided with a significant expansion of the law school, made possible by substantial contributions from conservative donors. The agreements with the donors included renaming the school for Scalia and hiring additional faculty members.

Justice Gorsuch has regularly taught in Padua, Italy, since 2018, with the university covering his airfare and apartment rental. Justice Kavanaugh taught outside London in 2019 and participated in the University of Notre Dame’s London Law Program in 2023, co-teaching a weeklong class with Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

Due to the private nature of these institutions, details about their arrangements with the justices are not subject to public records laws, limiting transparency in their operations.

The practice of offering luxury trips to Supreme Court justices by various educational institutions extends beyond the University of Hawaii Law School. Often funded by anonymous donors, these trips raise concerns about ethics and transparency. Justices have taken part in these programs, combining limited teaching obligations with extensive leisure time.

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