Globetrotting Supreme Court Justices Disclose Privately Paid Travel

Friday, June 24, 2016
Justice Stephen Breyer took 19 paid trips in 2015 (photo: Tom Williams, Getty Images)




By Adam Liptak, New York Times


WASHINGTON — Members of the Supreme Court took scores of trips paid for by private sponsors last year, according to the financial disclosure forms of eight justices released Wednesday.


No information was provided concerning Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February while on a hunting trip in Texas. He had been staying without charge at a hunting lodge owned by John Poindexter, a businessman whose company had recently had a matter before the Supreme Court.


Justice Scalia was an enthusiastic traveler, taking more than 250 privately funded trips from 2004 to 2014. A few weeks before he died, he visited Singapore and Hong Kong. A court spokeswoman said there would be no disclosure form detailing Justice Scalia’s travels in 2015.


The forms that were released offered a cursory overview of the other justices’ finances and activities, but they did provide a glimpse of their often demanding schedules of extrajudicial appearances.


Justice Stephen G. Breyer was the most active traveler last year, taking 19 paid trips, including three to London and two to Paris. The trips were partly to promote his book “The Court and the World,” which was published last year. He reported royalties and other payments from his publisher of about $120,000.


Justice Sonia Sotomayor was next, with 16 paid trips, but to less exotic places. She reported no new royalties from her best-selling memoir, “My Beloved World.”


In 2015, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. took paid trips to London and the Dominican Republic; Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to London, South Korea and Zurich; Justice Elena Kagan to Jerusalem; and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy to Salzburg, Austria.


Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. noted a single trip, to Tokyo, where he taught a course in July on the history of the Supreme Court.


Almost without exception, the forms did not disclose the costs involved, saying only that a justice had been reimbursed for, say, “transportation, food and lodging.” But Justice Ginsburg did say the Supreme Court of Korea had paid $8,220 for airfare, and Justice Sotomayor disclosed that she had flown to the University of Notre Dame on a private plane.


Other sources indicate that the justices’ trips can be lavish. According to records obtained under an Australian freedom of information law, the University of Adelaide paid more than $38,000 for Justice Scalia, his wife and another couple to fly business class to a 2011 conference.


The trip lasted almost two weeks and included luxury hotels in Los Angeles, and in Sydney, Adelaide, Melbourne and Tasmania in Australia for the two couples that were paid for by the university.


A few of the justices disclosed gifts received last year. The University of Chicago Law School gave Justice Kagan a signed first edition of a book by Justice Felix Frankfurter. Harlan Crow, a real estate magnate and a major contributor to conservative causes, gave Justice Clarence Thomas a bronze bust of Frederick Douglass worth $6,484.12.


The forms were released by the Administrative Office of the United States Courts. The office does not post them online, and it required news organizations to pay $14.60 for photocopies.


Gabe Roth, the executive director of Fix the Court, said the justices were behind the times.


“While members of the legislative and executive branches file reports throughout the year about their stock transactions and privately financed travel, and even federal district and circuit court judges place certain details about their junkets online as they occur,” he said, “the Supreme Court stands alone in its policy of releasing such information only once per year.


“Other branches have worked to be responsive to modern times, and while the high court’s docket each year comprises a number of tech-based disputes,” Mr. Roth added, “the court as an institution is still operating as if the information age never began.”


Eric Lipton contributed reporting from Washington.


To Learn More:

U.S. House Committee to Review Reporting Practices that Keep House Members’ Travel Details Secret (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Steve Straehley, AllGov)

Bipartisan House Bill would Prohibit Congress from Flying First Class at Taxpayers’ Expense (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

High-Flying Lawmakers Spent Half of Their $3.3 Million in Free Travel on Summer Getaways (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)