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Justices teach when the Supreme Court isn’t in session. It can double as an all-expenses-paid trip

by Madison Thomas
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Supreme Court Ethics

For many years, the University of Hawaii’s law school has been presenting its Jurist-In-Residence program as an attractive, fully-funded retreat to members of the Supreme Court, offering substantial leisure time in a beautiful setting.

This initiative has seen active participation from various justices.

In an attempt to persuade Justice Sonia Sotomayor to visit in 2010, the then-Dean Aviam Soifer highlighted the positive experiences of former visitors Justices Ginsburg, Kennedy, and Breyer, promising comprehensive coverage of travel costs including first-class airfare and superior hotel accommodations.

The program, however, is not without its ethical complexities, as documented by the AP. These include interactions between justices and donors during campus visits, raising questions about the integrity of the Court’s ethics practices. Notably, Justice Sotomayor’s staff has shown a reluctance to engage with donors.

While teaching is promoted within the program to demystify the Supreme Court and expose justices to diverse audiences, it often involves global travel during court breaks. This is permissible as long as earnings don’t exceed the Court’s $30,000 limit on external income.

The Supreme Court, in a statement, outlined the rules governing such teaching assignments, which must be pre-approved by the Chief Justice or the Associate Justices in the case of the Chief Justice’s own teaching.

However, public records requests by The Big Big News have uncovered that some of these trips, which include destinations like Italy, Iceland, and Hawaii, often involve minimal classroom time and substantial periods for personal leisure.

A 2018 syllabus for a class taught by Justice Neil Gorsuch in Italy exemplifies this trend. Both Gorsuch and Justice Brett Kavanaugh, after their appointments, joined George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia School of Law, teaching courses abroad with limited classroom hours, thus allowing time for personal activities.

These arrangements coincide with substantial donations to the law school, including a notable $20 million from an anonymous donor contingent on renaming the school after Scalia and expanding the faculty. The Charles Koch Foundation also contributed $10 million. School officials assert that these donations did not influence hiring decisions.

Justice Gorsuch’s teaching engagements in Padua, Italy, and other locations have been funded by the university, covering travel and accommodation costs. Similarly, Justices Kavanaugh and Barrett have taught abroad through programs like the University of Notre Dame’s London Law Program.

These circumstances, often kept private due to the nature of the institutions involved, have sparked debate about the ethical implications of such programs, with some critics arguing that the luxuries afforded to the justices may cross ethical boundaries.

For more detailed coverage on this topic, the AP’s dedicated section on the U.S. Supreme Court can be accessed at their official website.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Supreme Court Ethics

What is the University of Hawaii’s Jurist-In-Residence program?

The University of Hawaii’s Jurist-In-Residence program is a fully-funded retreat offered to Supreme Court Justices, providing them with leisure time in Hawaii while engaging in minimal teaching activities.

How does the Jurist-In-Residence program impact Supreme Court Justices?

The program allows Justices to teach and interact with diverse audiences during court recesses, but it has raised ethical questions due to its luxurious nature and interactions with donors.

What are the ethical concerns associated with the Supreme Court Justices’ participation in the program?

The concerns revolve around the luxurious benefits received by the Justices and their potential interactions with anonymous donors, which could influence judicial impartiality.

Have any Supreme Court Justices participated in the Jurist-In-Residence program?

Yes, several Justices including Ginsburg, Kennedy, Breyer, Alito, Scalia, and Sotomayor have participated in the program, with varying degrees of engagement in donor interactions.

What rules govern the teaching assignments of Supreme Court Justices?

Teaching assignments must be at accredited educational institutions, approved in advance by the Chief Justice, and the earnings should not exceed the Court’s $30,000 cap on outside income.

How do these teaching programs relate to the Supreme Court’s ethical practices?

These programs highlight the need for scrutiny in the ethical practices of the Supreme Court, particularly concerning the extent of luxurious benefits and donor relations.

More about Supreme Court Ethics

  • University of Hawaii Jurist-In-Residence Program
  • Ethical Concerns in Supreme Court Justices’ Activities
  • Supreme Court Justices’ Outside Income Limits
  • Donor Interactions with Supreme Court Justices
  • Supreme Court’s Teaching Assignments Rules
  • Investigations into Supreme Court Ethics Practices

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