- Antonin Scalia Law School at the Virginia-based George Mason University was renamed in 2016.
- The renaming was part of a plan to help its reputation by getting closer to the Supreme Court.
- Justices were given notable benefits to teach there, emails obtained by The New York Times reveal.
A conservative law school looking to rebrand into a powerhouse institution buttered up conservative Supreme Court Justices with excessive benefits and good pay, documents obtained by The New York Times show.
Because justices are legally allowed to make money outside of the court in limited ways, including through teaching opportunities, Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University, which was renamed after the late judge in 2016, offered justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas teaching roles in remote locations like Iceland and Italy, as well as salaries sometimes upwards of $30,000 for two weeks of teaching, the NYT reported.
According to the NYT, the judges were treated well, with lodging and trip planning arranged by the school. University officials told Gorsuch in 2017, before a teaching trip to Italy, that he would only be required to teach in the mornings, leaving the rest of the day to explore the country, according to the emails obtained by the Times. Upon hearing this news, Gorsuch replied, “Fantastico!”
Even liberal justices were enamored by the treatment, according to the Times, with Justice Elena Kagan, who once spoke at the university, saying the law school “seems like a really good place to be.”
Amanda Frost, a law professor at the University of Virginia, spoke with the NYT and described the teaching jobs as appearing to be “all-expenses-paid vacations, with a little teaching thrown in.”
The law school began its relationships with the court following a renaming ceremony — planned by the school’s dean and Republican megadonor Leonard Leo — in 2017, where multiple justices attended and spoke. According to internal emails from university leadership, these relationships were explicitly made to help build the school’s reputation.
“Establishing and building a strong relationship with Justice Gorsuch during his first full term on the bench could be a game-changing opportunity for Scalia Law, as it looks to accelerate its already meteoric rise to the top rank of law schools in the United States,” one email from the university law school read, according to the NYT.
The law school’s staff, many of whom worked directly with the justices, often filed amicus briefs with the court, and court staff helped to handle school duties — despite not being allowed to do so — revealing how the justices’ jobs frequently entwined with their outside work at Scalia Law.
This desire to keep Supreme Court leadership on their roster even superseded scandals the judges faced. Following the sexual misconduct allegations Brett Kavanaugh faced right before he was appointed, Butler assured the justice protests from students against the soon-to-be law professor on campus had nothing to do with the law school, according to the NYT.
The NYT story comes at a time when the lives of the often-secretive Supreme Court have been scrutinized following a ProPublica report that Justice Thomas had been taking lavish secret vacations on a private jet and superyacht paid for by GOP megadonor Harlan Crow for years without disclosing them.
A new report from Insider’s Mattathias Schwartz found that the wife of Chief Justice John Roberts made millions as a legal recruiter for law firms, according to a whistleblower who worked with him.
Despite this extra scrutiny over conflicts of interest, legal experts told Insider there isn’t much that can be done to hold justices accountable.
The Antonin Scalia Law School and a spokesperson for the Supreme Court did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.