Supreme Court Justices’ visits to public colleges and universities have included audiences of influential donors, and justices have appeared at partisan events, according to tens of thousands of pages of emails and other documents, reviewed by the Associated Press. Those documents reflect that justices have used events to advance their own personal interests, such as book sales. This conduct would likely be prohibited if done by lower court judges, but the Supreme Court’s definition of fundraising is so narrow that it does not account for soliciting contributors later while reminding them of the special access they were afforded.
“The justices should be aware that people are selling access to them,” said University of Virginia law Prof. Amanda Frost, an ethics expert. In a statement, the Supreme Court said: “The Court routinely asks event organizers to confirm that an event at which a Justice will speak is not a fundraiser, and it provides a definition of ‘fundraiser’ in order to avoid misunderstandings.” At the heart of some of the questions being raised about the court is the fact that it operates without a formal code of conduct. The court’s integrity is being questioned because of concerns about ethics abuses by justices and polarizing court rulings, including last year’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade. A 2022 survey put trust in the court at a 50-year low, with just 18% expressing a great level of confidence.