Justice Sonia Sotomayor leverages taxpayer funded travel to promote her books: report

The justice's memoir and children's books have earned her more than $3.7 million since she joined the court in 2009.

Katie Daviscourt Seattle WA
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor's staffers have repeatedly used taxpayer funded court staff performing tasks to prod public institutions for the justice's book ventures, which has garnered her millions of dollars in extra income.

Sotomayor, who earns an annual salary of $285,400, has leveraged taxpayer funded travel to promote her books. While other justices have also earned additional income through their own literary deals, no other justices come close to Sotomayor, which has raised ethical concerns within the Supreme Court, Associated Press reports.

J. Michael Luttig, a former federal appeals court judge appointed by President George W. Bush, explained that Sotomayor's promotional efforts risk damaging the high court's public standing.

"I have never believed that Supreme Court justices should write books to supplement their judicial incomes," Luttig said. "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."

Documents obtained by Associated Press reveal repeated examples of taxpayer funds used to organize speaking events for Sotomayor to promote her books by prodding public institutions, mainly colleges and universities. The justice's memoir and children's books have earned her more than $3.7 million since she joined the court in 2009.

However, since there is no formal code of conduct within the Supreme Court, holding justices accountable is not an easy feat since they enforce their own rules. For this, critics question the high court's ethical standards.

Kedric Payne, a former deputy chief counsel at the Office of Congressional Ethics and current general counsel for the Campaign Legal Center, told AP: "This is one of the most basic tenets of ethics laws that protects taxpayer dollars from misuse."

"The problem at the Supreme Court is there’s no one there to say whether this is wrong," Payne said.

Penguin Random House, Sotomayer's publisher, presses public institutions to commit to purchasing a certain number of copies or demands that event attendees purchase books before they can obtain a ticket. According to AP, Sotomayer did not recuse herself when her publisher appeared before the high court for several matters.

The Supreme Court released a statement saying, "Justice Sotomayor would have recused in cases in which Penguin Random House was a party, in light of her close and ongoing relationship with the publisher. An inadvertent omission failed to bring Penguin’s participation in several cases to her attention; those cases ultimately were not selected for review by the Court. Chambers’ conflict check procedures have since been changed."

According to AP, a person close to Sotomayor insisted that the justice "has not and will not profit from sales" of her memoir beyond the $3.1 million advancement. They said that doing so would "require purchases of hundreds of thousands of additional books, more than double the purchases to date."

However, Sotomayor has earned at least $400,00 in royalties since 2019 from her children's literature sales, which includes her second best-selling book “Just Ask!" the outlet reports.

Similar arrangements have benefited other justices. However, because the justices only disclose lump sum payments at year's end, it is difficult to determine how much money they have made from certain institutions or occasions.

Democrats have lamented the ethics violations allegedly carried out by Justice Clarence Thomas, who apparently failed to make known luxury travel, gifts, and a real estate deal involving a GOP megadonor.

According to AP, Thomas has collected about $1 million since 2006, former justice Stephen Breyer made $700,000 in royalty income in the past two decades, Justice Neil Gorsuch has disclosed more than $900,000 since 2017, Justice Amy Coney Barrett reported a $2 million advancement for an upcoming book, and Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson signed a book deal, but has not yet disclosed the amount.

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