The death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia at a lavish Texas resort last weekend has raised questions about who paid for Scalia's trip and the justice's relationship with the businessman who owns the resort. The resort owner also had a business involved in a case that the court declined to hear last year. And, as The Washington Post's Mark Berman noted, had the justice not died there it's possible the public would have never learned about the trip at all.
There's no indication of wrongdoing or ethical impropriety here. But Scalia's death on the road is a reminder that the justices travel, lecture and have lives beyond the high court's cloistered walls -- and that quite often those trips are paid for by outside organizations. You can get some sense of this by reading the justices' annual financial disclosure forms, which report income earned from investments and other sources, spousal income, financial liabilities and reimbursements from outside groups for justices' food transportation, lodging and entertainment.
From 2011 to 2014, for instance, justices took at least 365 trips where outside groups picked up all or some of the tab. (2011 is the first full year all the current justices sat on the court.)
Scalia was the court's most prolific recent traveler, being reimbursed for expenses by outside groups 23 times in 2014, and nearly 100 times since 2011. By contrast, Chief Justice John Roberts received only five reimbursements since 2011. The other seven justices fall somewhere in between.
Many of these trips and outside engagements are fairly prosaic. More than half of them were paid for by colleges and universities for justices' teaching and speaking engagements. For instance, in 2014, Scalia received reimbursements for teaching and lecturing from 12 universities as far-flung as the Universities of Hawaii and Zurich.
But plenty of other groups are happy to pick up justices' travel bills, too. Roughly 17 percent of justices' reimbursed travel was to events sponsored by bar associations and other legal groups -- not exactly surprising. But nearly one-third of the trips were paid for by a variety of other groups and organizations, including think tanks, museums, media organizations and even a few individuals.
Nearly 6 in 10 of Justice Anthony Kennedy's and Justice Stephen Breyer's trips were paid for by non-legal and non-university organizations. In 2011, for instance, Breyer took no fewer than 10 trips promoting his book "Making Democracy Work." These trips were funded by his publisher, various presidential libraries and other locations where he held book events.
Kennedy has taken eight trips to Colonial Williamsburg paid for by that organization, where he is a member of the board of trustees.
Scalia was a frequent guest of several organizations with a more ideological bent. He traveled at the behest of the conservative Federalist Society at least 10 times between 2011 and 2014, the disclosures show. The relationship between Scalia and the Federalist Society was somewhat unique: No other organization, legal, educational or otherwise, appeared as often in a single justice's disclosures.
In 2013, Scalia gave a reimbursed speech at the conservative Gatestone Institute run by former U.N. ambassador John Bolton. He also gave a speech that year to the Friends of Abe, a private group of Hollywood conservatives.
While the court's more liberal justices have been reimbursed by ideological groups, as well, it occurred far less frequently. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg spoke before the International Women's Health Coalition, a group that advocates for reproductive rights, in 2014. Justice Sonia Sotomayor attended an event sponsored by the Just The Beginning Foundation, a group that promotes diversity in the legal profession. In 2012 Breyer attended one event each at the center-left Brookings Institution and Annenberg Foundation.
The disclosures also reveal that Scalia was something of a globe-trotter: He took at least 17 international trips that were reimbursed by outside organizations from 2011 to 2014, more than any other justice.
Scalia's reimbursed travels took him to Cambridge, Rome, Switzerland (twice), Australia and Canada for teaching, lectures and speeches -- and that was in 2011 alone. In 2012, he spent 10 days teaching in Innsbruck, Austria. In 2014 he spent 10 days in Galway, Ireland, at the behest of the New England School of Law.
Breyer has done plenty of reimbursed international travel, too -- 16 trips since 2011. Other justices travel abroad less often. Justice Elena Kagan has taken three trips overseas, Justice Clarence Thomas, only two.
The disclosure forms also reveal other aspects of the justices' lives. In 2013, for instance, financier David Rubenstein flew Breyer out to a late-summer wedding in Nantucket -- the disclosure doesn't specify who was getting married. In 2012, Justice Samuel Alito received a free trip to New Jersey to be inducted into the National Italian-American Hall of Fame. Also in 2012, Ginsburg traveled to New York to accept Glamour Magazine's Woman of the Year award, which came with a gift bag valued at $2,500, per her disclosure form.
There are few reports of personal gifts on the forms. One went to Sotomayor, who in 2011 reported a $1,400 gift of fine china from "the Butler family" and a $6,000 "translucent composite print" from one Robert Weingarten. In other years, Sotomayor added a note to the "Additional Information" section of the form explaining that "many people sent me gifts of books, art, jewelry and trinkets. I have no reason to believe that any of those items exceeded the [reporting] limit. If I should learn otherwise, I will amend this form."
Sotomayor and Scalia are unique among the justices in reporting liabilities on her disclosure forms. For several years, Sotomayor listed up to four credit card debts below $15,000 (Discover, Visa, Mastercard and Amex, in case you were wondering). She also reports a mortgage on a rental property in New York valued at between $250,001 and $500,000.
In all four years, Scalia reported a liability of a loan on a life insurance policy valued at less than $15,000.
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