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  5. SCOTUS justices went on cushy teaching trips to Italy, Iceland, and the UK funded by a conservative law school: NYT

SCOTUS justices went on cushy teaching trips to Italy, Iceland, and the UK funded by a conservative law school: NYT

Kieran Corcoran   

SCOTUS justices went on cushy teaching trips to Italy, Iceland, and the UK funded by a conservative law school: NYT
  • George Mason University funded a series of plush trips for Supreme Court justices in recent years.
  • A legal-ethics expert told The New York Times that the trips were concerning.

Justices on the Supreme Court benefitted from lavish teaching trips funded by the conservative Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University, The New York Times reported.

Per The Times, the law school sent justices on trips to European tourist spots as part of teaching programs.

The revelations add to the scrutiny of the financial affairs of the highest court. Leading that conversation have been favors received by Clarence Thomas by the billionaire Harlan Crow, as well as reporting from Insider that the wife of Chief Justice John Roberts made in excess of $10 million working her legal connections as her husband led the court.

As Insider's Hannah Getahun reported, the Times article showed how, over the course of years, the Scalia law school intensified its links with serving justices — including the overseas trips

Neil Gorsuch went to Padua, Italy, in 2018 and to Iceland in 2021, where he was joined by Elena Kagan. Brett Kavanaugh taught in the picturesque countryside of Runnymede, England, in 2019, the report said.

Teaching gigs are a permitted way for justices to earn extra money on top of their salaries of around $280,000.

But the overseas postings drew scrutiny for the perks that came with them, covering flights, food, drink, and plush accommodation.

From The Times's investigation, informed by a cache of internal George Mason emails:

  • Gorsuch was hosted in an "aristocratic" old-town apartment in Padua at the school's expense in 2018.
  • He was flown there at a cost of $3,771.
  • Gorsuch was asked to help pick which Italian city would host his teaching trip.
  • He only had to teach in the mornings.
  • Gorsuch's accommodation in Iceland in 2021 cost $5,250.
  • The school paid thousands of dollars more to bring in friends and colleagues of Gorsuch as guest speakers, Kagan among them.
  • Kavanaugh was taken to Runnymede, England, in 2019 and supplied "a nice cottage" in the countryside.

The Times spoke to a legal-ethics expert, Amanda Frost of the University of Virginia's law school, who said the arrangements raised issues.

"Some of this sounds like all-expenses-paid vacations, with a little teaching thrown in," she said.

A photo montage from the Iceland trip, from July 19 to 30, 2021, interspersed classroom shots with top Icelandic sites.

They included the striking Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavík, waterfalls and ocean scenes, and what appears to be the famed Blue Lagoon.

A publicity image from the 2018 Padua trip showed Gorsuch posing with students, and a news release described the group. The Times said the trip also took in excursions to Bologna and Florence.

Insider could find little detail on Kavanaugh's time in Runnymede. The town is famed for being the venue for the signing of the Magna Carta of 1215, limiting the king's power and underpinning the legal system of England and, later, the US.

The law school defended its arrangements in an emailed statement to Insider, hailing the close links to the Supreme Court as a mark of its success. Its students' exposure to the justices is, it said, "on par with that of the nation's top 10 schools."

The statement did not address questions from Insider about the trips, including whether it chose destinations specifically to entice the justices, and whether it operates according to any ethical guidelines.

A spokeswoman for the Supreme Court declined to comment to The Times. Insider sought comment from the court as well but did not immediately hear back.

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