Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s staff pressed colleges and libraries to buy her books in return for speaking engagements!

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in her dissent that despite the court’s actions, “society’s progress toward equality cannot be permanently halted.”

Dear Commons Community,

For colleges and libraries seeking a big name for a guest lecturer, few come bigger than Sonia Sotomayor, the Supreme Court justice who rose from poverty in the Bronx to the nation’s highest court.

She has benefited, too — from schools’ purchases of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of the books she has written over the years.  As reported by the Associated Press.

Sotomayor’s staff has often prodded public institutions that have hosted the justice to buy her memoir or children’s books, works that have earned her at least $3.7 million since she joined the court in 2009. Details of those events, largely out of public view, were obtained by The Associated Press through more than 100 open records requests to public institutions. The resulting tens of thousands of pages of documents offer a rare look at Sotomayor and her fellow justices beyond their official duties.

In her case, the documents reveal repeated examples of taxpayer-funded court staff performing tasks for the justice’s book ventures, which workers in other branches of government are barred from doing. But when it comes to promoting her literary career, Sotomayor is free to do what other government officials cannot because the Supreme Court does not have a formal code of conduct, leaving the nine justices to largely write and enforce their own rules.

“This is one of the most basic tenets of ethics laws that protects taxpayer dollars from misuse,” said Kedric Payne, a former deputy chief counsel at the Office of Congressional Ethics and current general counsel for the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan government watchdog group in Washington. “The problem at the Supreme Court is there’s no one there to say whether this is wrong.”

Supreme Court staffers have been deeply involved in organizing speaking engagements intended to sell books. That is conduct prohibited for members of Congress and the executive branch, who are barred under ethics rules from using government resources, including staff, for personal financial gain. Lower federal court judges are also instructed to not “lend the prestige of the judicial office to advance” their “private interests.”

In a statement, the Supreme Court said it works with the justices and their staff to ensure they are “complying with judicial ethics guidance for such visits.”

“When (Sotomayor) is invited to participate in a book program, Chambers staff recommends the number of books (for an organization to order) based on the size of the audience so as not to disappoint attendees who may anticipate books being available at an event,” the court said.

The documents obtained by AP show that the justices’ conduct spans their conservative-liberal split. Besides book sales, appearances by the justices were used in hopes of raising money at schools, which often invited major contributors to the events. Justices also lent the allure of their high office to partisan activity.

In 2019, as Sotomayor traveled the country to promote her new children’s book, “Just Ask!,” library and community college officials in Portland, Oregon, jumped at the chance to host an event.

They put in long hours and accommodated the shifting requests of Sotomayor’s court staff. Then, as the public cost of hosting the event soared almost tenfold, a Sotomayor aide emailed with a different, urgent concern: She said the organizers did not buy enough copies of the justice’s book, which attendees had to purchase or have on hand in order to meet Sotomayor after her talk.

“For an event with 1,000 people and they have to have a copy of Just Ask to get into the line, 250 books is definitely not enough,” the aide, Anh Le, wrote staffers at the Multnomah County Library. “Families purchase multiples and people will be upset if they are unable to get in line because the book required is sold out.”

It was not an isolated push. As Sotomayor prepared for commencement weekend at the University of California, Davis law school, her staff pitched officials there on buying copies of books in connection with the event. Before a visit to the University of Wisconsin, the staff suggested a book signing.

At Clemson University in South Carolina, school officials offered to buy 60 signed copies before a 2017 appearance; Sotomayor’s staff noted that most schools order around 400. Michigan State University asked Sotomayor to come to campus and in 2018 spent more than $100,000 on copies of her memoir, “My Beloved World,” to distribute to incoming first-year students. The books were shipped to the Supreme Court, where copies were taken to her chambers by court workers and signed by her before being sent to the school.

Sotomayor, whose annual salary this year is $285,400, is not alone in earning money by writing books. Such income is exempt from the court’s $30,000 restriction on outside yearly pay. But none of the justices has as forcefully leveraged publicly sponsored travel to boost book sales as has Sotomayor, according to emails and other records reviewed by the AP.

Such promotional efforts risk damaging the Supreme Court’s public standing further by placing an individual justice above the institution itself, said J. Michael Luttig, a former federal appeals court judge who has pushed for the justices to adopt a formal code of conduct.

“I have never believed that Supreme Court justices should write books to supplement their judicial incomes,” said Luttig, who was considered for the Supreme Court by President George W. Bush. “The potential for promotion of the individual justices over the Court at the reputational expense of the Court as an institution, as well as the appearance of such, is unavoidable.”

Yet another embarrassment for the highest court in the land.  Thank you Thomas, Alito, and now Sotomayor!



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