Supreme Court Justices Educate during Court Recess, Enjoying Complimentary Travels

by Lucas Garcia
Supreme Court Ethics

For years, the University of Hawaii law school has positioned its Jurist-In-Residence program as a complimentary retreat to the Supreme Court, promising significant relaxation time in a picturesque setting.

Justices have consistently participated in this program with enthusiasm.

In a 2010 email aimed at enticing Justice Sonia Sotomayor to the Honolulu school, former Dean Aviam Soifer highlighted the positive experiences of former participants, Justices Ginsburg, Kennedy, and Breyer. He also promised to cover first-class airfare, high-quality hotel accommodations, and all other travel expenses.

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Teaching is advocated as a way to illuminate the work of the nation’s highest court and provide the justices with exposure to various demographics. They have lectured globally during court breaks for years, a practice allowed as long as their earnings are below the court’s approximate $30,000 limit on external income.

According to the Supreme Court’s statement, teaching should occur at an accredited educational institution or legal education program and must be pre-approved by the Chief Justice or the Associate Justices in case the Chief Justice is teaching.

Public records acquired by The Big Big News reveal that some fully paid trips — to destinations like Italy, Iceland, and Hawaii — have little classroom instruction and allocate ample time for the justices’ recreation.

Critics argue that the luxury level of these trips, often out of reach for most Americans, appears to be ethically questionable as justices receive them by virtue of their roles. Detailed information about these trips is often withheld from the public as justices are only required to provide minimal accounting on their yearly financial disclosure forms.

However, AP has discovered that these journeys, which would cost the justices thousands if self-funded, are sometimes subsidized by anonymous donors to the host schools, leaving their motivations hard to discern.

The University of Hawaii argues that its geographic isolation necessitates offering high-quality accommodations to justices to ensure their visit.

Details about the proposed activities during Justice Samuel Alito’s 2011 visit to Honolulu, disclosed by a University of Hawaii law school official, show the program’s flexibility. Besides Alito, Ginsburg, Kennedy, Scalia, Breyer, and Sotomayor have participated in the program in the past decade.

Records suggest that while in Hawaii, justices usually taught a few classes, met with local dignitaries, and often dined at private clubs or the residences of major school donors. Hawaii is only one among many locations where academics and tourism have been compelling draws.

Shortly after being appointed to the Supreme Court, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh joined the faculty of the Antonin Scalia School of Law at George Mason University in Virginia. Their teaching engagements were overseas in places like Italy, Iceland, and England, where the university also covered their travel and living expenses.

This setup allowed Gorsuch and Kavanaugh to teach condensed, approximately two-week-long summer courses that were mainly scheduled in the mornings, leaving them ample time for relaxation and exploration.

The justices’ contracts corresponded with a considerable expansion of the law school, made possible through sizable contributions from conservative donors.

Gorsuch, since joining the faculty in 2018, has regularly taught in Padua, Italy. Kavanaugh, on the other hand, taught near Runnymede, England, in 2019 and resumed teaching abroad later.

In the same year, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, another nominee of Trump, co-taught weeklong classes abroad via the University of Notre Dame’s London Law Program.

As with other private schools hosting the justices overseas, Notre Dame isn’t governed by public records laws, and its officials declined to comment.

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Follow The Big Big News’s coverage of the U.S. Supreme Court at https://bigbignews.net/us-supreme-court.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Supreme Court Justices’ teaching trips

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

The Jurist-In-Residence program at the University of Hawaii is an initiative aimed at inviting Supreme Court Justices to the university for teaching and speaking engagements. It offers an all-expenses-paid stay in Hawaii with considerable leisure time.

Do Supreme Court Justices teach during the court’s recess?

Yes, Supreme Court Justices often travel globally to give lectures and teach during the court’s recess. It’s a permissible practice, provided their earnings are below the court’s $30,000 cap on outside income.

Are the teaching trips of the Justices fully paid for?

Yes, the trips are often all-expenses-paid, including first-class airfare, high-end accommodations, and other travel expenses. These costs are typically covered by the hosting institutions, sometimes funded by anonymous donors.

Are there any ethical concerns about these teaching trips?

Some critics express concerns about the luxury of these trips and the interaction with influential donors at hosting institutions. The details of these trips often remain largely undisclosed, making it hard to assess motivations and potential conflicts of interest.

What does the Supreme Court say about these teaching trips?

The Supreme Court acknowledges these teaching trips, noting a $30,000 income cap from such activities. It maintains that the teaching must be conducted at an accredited educational institution or continuing legal educational program, approved in advance by the Chief Justice or the Associate Justices.

How much teaching do the Justices actually do on these trips?

Documents suggest that while some teaching is involved, there is significant downtime built into these trips for justices’ leisure, suggesting these trips might be light on classroom instruction.

More about Supreme Court Justices’ teaching trips

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AmyJusticeFan July 11, 2023 - 12:03 pm

I think it’s cool they’re getting out there and teaching. Keeps them grounded and in touch with everyday people.

MaryS. July 11, 2023 - 2:00 pm

not surprised at all! they’re all out there enjoying while we’re all working hard to make ends meet…

Brett92 July 12, 2023 - 2:07 am

I wonder who these anonymous donors are? Would be nice to know who’s funding these trips… seems shady to me.

JohnDoe123 July 12, 2023 - 3:58 am

Wow, didn’t know the justices were living it up in Hawaii on teaching gigs. Sign me up for that!

ConstitutionLover July 12, 2023 - 5:49 am

As long as they stick to the $30k cap and it’s all approved, I don’t see the issue.

Carl_Lawyer July 12, 2023 - 8:40 am

Hawaii, Italy, England… Supreme Court Justices have the life! I need to rethink my career choices, lol.

LegalEagle789 July 12, 2023 - 10:52 am

Who can blame them? I’d take a teaching job in paradise over a cold D.C. winter anyday!


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