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Supreme Court Justices: The Perks of Free Trips, Book Sales, and Fundraising Support
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Supreme Court justices have been found to benefit from teaching engagements and public appearances, as revealed in an investigative series by the Associated Press (AP). The AP conducted an extensive investigation, relying on over 100 public records requests to obtain relevant documents and information. The findings shed light on various aspects of justices’ activities and raise questions about their ethical responsibilities.

According to the AP report, some teaching engagements involving Supreme Court justices are light on actual classroom instruction and provide ample leisure time. The justices have been invited to teach in locations around the world, including Italy, Iceland, England, and Hawaii. The documents obtained by the AP show that schools cover the justices’ airfare, living expenses during their stay, and even the costs of side trips. In some cases, anonymous donors to the schools cover the travel expenses. The justices sometimes interact with prominent law school donors during these teaching trips. Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s staff instructed her not to meet with donors during a trip to the University of Hawaii.

The teaching engagements of Supreme Court justices remain relatively unknown because they are only required to provide limited information on their annual financial disclosure forms. The justices are prohibited from earning more than $30,000 in outside income. However, staff members for Justice Sotomayor have reportedly encouraged institutions hosting her appearances to purchase her memoir or her children’s books. While several justices have written books, Sotomayor is said to have more actively leveraged publicly sponsored travel to boost her book sales. Penguin Random House, the publisher of Sotomayor’s books, has also promoted book purchases at her events. Notably, book income does not fall under the $30,000 cap on outside income for the justices. The Supreme Court states that staff members recommend the availability of books based on audience size, aiming to avoid disappointing attendees. It’s worth noting that staff members in other branches of government would not be allowed to promote book sales for members of Congress or the executive branch.


See also: Supreme Court’s Conservative Justices Conclude Assertive Term

The AP report also highlights instances where schools hosting appearances by Supreme Court justices have used the events to invite donors and potential donors to dinners and luncheons with the justices. Some of these donors have interests that have come before the Court in the past. Furthermore, some justices have participated in speaking events alongside prominent politicians, potentially blurring the lines between their positions and partisan activities. While the Supreme Court claims to ask event organizers to confirm that an event featuring a justice is not a fundraiser, their definition of fundraising does not account for later solicitation of contributors by reminding them of the special access they were afforded. According to the Supreme Court, the presence of elected officials during a justice’s appearance does not necessarily render the event impermissibly political.

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It’s important to note that Supreme Court justices are not bound by the same ethics code as other federal judges. However, Chief Justice Roberts stated in April that the justices have agreed to follow guidelines outlined in a Statement on Ethics Principles and Practices. In February, the American Bar Association (ABA) House of Delegates passed a resolution urging the Supreme Court to adopt a binding code of ethics for justices. The AP report implicates nearly every sitting justice, as well as several recently retired or departed justices, regardless of their political affiliation.

Court transparency group Fix the Court issued a press release in response to the AP report, stating that the justices should reevaluate and recommit to their ethical responsibilities. They suggested that the justices avoid fundraisers, refrain from using their staff for personal enrichment, and file pre- and post-travel reports similar to those required of lawmakers, disclosing transportation, lodging, food, and entertainment expenses.

The AP’s investigative series raises important questions about the ethical conduct of Supreme Court justices, particularly regarding their teaching engagements, book sales, and involvement in fundraising events. The findings underscore the need for greater transparency and accountability within the Supreme Court, and concerned individuals and organizations have called for the adoption of a binding code of ethics for justices.

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