The Supreme Court of the United States has cultivated a reputation for objectivity and non-partisanship since the founding generation but a recent investigation by the New York Times may have shattered that reputation.
New York Times reporters Jo Becker and Julie Tate investigated an organization called the Supreme Court Historical Society, a non-profit dedicated to publishing educational material on the history of the U.S. Supreme Court. While this charitable organization may have started with noble intentions for public education, it has grown into an avenue for special interest group throughout the American legal community.
The charity, the Supreme Court Historical Society, is ostensibly independent of the judicial branch of government, but in reality the two are inextricably intertwined. The charity’s stated mission is straightforward: to preserve the court’s history and educate the public about the court’s importance in American life. But over the years the society has also become a vehicle for those seeking access to nine of the most reclusive and powerful people in the nation. The justices attend the society’s annual black-tie dinner soirees, where they mingle with donors and thank them for their generosity, and serve as M.C.s to more regular society-sponsored lectures or re-enactments of famous cases.
The society has raised more than $23 million over the last two decades. Because of its nonprofit status, it does not have to publicly disclose its donors — and declined when asked to do so. But The New York Times was able to identify the sources behind more than $10.7 million raised since 2003, the first year for which relevant records were available.
At least $6.4 million — or 60 percent — came from corporations, special interest groups, or lawyers and firms that argued cases before the court, according to an analysis of archived historical society newsletters and publicly available records that detail grants given to the society by foundations. Of that, at least $4.7 million came from individuals or entities in years when they had an interest in a pending federal court case on appeal or at the high court, records show.Jo Becker and Julie Tate, A Charity Tied to the Supreme Court Offers Donors Access to Justices, The New York Times (2022).
This story should be headline news everywhere but it seems everyone is too busy gossiping about who will be the next Speaker of the House.
Here are the big questions with this story:
Do American citizens have any assurances that the Supreme Court Historical is not trading donations for access to arguably the U.S. government’s most powerful branch and do we have any assurances that the Supreme Court is not letting these special interests affect their official decisions?
I think the answer to both of these questions is no, we do not have such assurances. I do not believe that any government official (elected or appointed) deserves any benefit of the doubt. If there is any opportunity for corruption especially when there is money involved, the assumption should be that there is corruption occurring. Citizens should be skeptical of EVERYTHING that a government official says or does and the burden of proof must be on the government regarding any suspicion of corruption.