Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s staff has regularly urged public institutions, including schools and libraries, to purchase her memoir and children’s books, an action that has earned her a minimum of $3.7 million since joining the Supreme Court in 2009.
Ethics concerns: Sotomayor has leveraged publicly sponsored travel to increase her book sales, which critics argue could compromise the Supreme Court’s reputation and breach ethical regulations normally upheld by other branches of government.
* While Sotomayor has earned more substantial income from writing books exempt from the court’s $30,000 restriction on outside annual pay, she is not alone among justices in leveraging publicly sponsored appearances to promote book sales.
* Public records reveal instances of taxpayer-funded court staff working on the justice’s book ventures, a task other government sectors prohibit their workers from performing due to conflict of interest concerns.
Profits from book sales: Since 2019, the meticulous management of her book promotions by Sotomayor’s staff has amassed over $400,000 in royalties from sales of her children’s literature, specifically from “Just Ask!”, her second best-selling book.
* Notably, these promotions urged organizers of public events to buy more copies based on audience sizes to “not disappoint attendees who may anticipate books being available at the event.”
The Supreme Court’s response: The Supreme Court announced that they consult with each justice and their staff to ensure their visits comply with judicial ethics guidance.
* They argue that, as there is no obligation for attendees to purchase books to attend events, Sotomayor’s actions are within ethical boundaries.
Possible conflict of Interest: Sotomayor’s publisher, Penguin Random House, has been involved in organizing the justice’s talks. Despite having several matters before the court, Sotomayor has not recused herself from their cases.
* This potentially harmful association has raised conflict-of-interest queries relating to her on-going relationship with the publisher.
In conclusion, even though public institutions purchasing books authored by speakers at their events isn’t uncommon, the regularity and scale of purchases encouraged by Sotomayor’s staff have raised ethics questions. Sotomayor, her staff and the Supreme Court defend these actions as consistent with judicial ethics guidance.
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