The investigation, which was carried out by The Associated Press through public records requests, showed how staff members, who are paid using taxpayer money to support Sotomayor in serving as a Supreme Court justice, pushed hard to increase her book sales – and, by extension, her personal wealth.
On numerous occasions, Sotomayor’s staff pressured library and school officials to buy extra copies of her books and to remind those attending visits by the justice that they cannot get in the signing line without buying a book.
For example, in one 2019 email ahead of a book talk by Sotomayor in Portland, Oregon, one of her aides wrote: “For an event with 1000 people and they have to have a copy of Just Ask to get into the line, 250 books is definitely not enough. Families purchase multiples and people will be upset if they are unable to get in line because the book required is sold out.”
On another occasion, before a 2017 appearance at Clemson University in South Carolina, officials from the school offered to buy 60 signed copies of her book. In response, a staffer informed them that most schools order around 400 copies.
Michigan State University, meanwhile, spent more than $100,000 distributing a book written by Sotomayor to first-year students, and court workers brought the books to the justice’s chambers so she could sign them before they were sent to the school.
Although there are no formal binding ethics codes in the Supreme Court and Sotomayor did not technically violate any laws, it is worth emphasizing that her staff’s actions would not be permitted in many other areas of public service.
The AP pointed out that involving staff in speaking events aimed at selling books is “prohibited for members of Congress and the executive branch, who are barred under ethics rules from using government resources, including staff, for personal financial gain. Lower federal court judges are also instructed to not ‘lend the prestige of the judicial office to advance’ their ‘private interests.’”
Sotomayor is currently the most senior liberal in the Supreme Court. Her Supreme Court justice salary is more than $285,000 per year, making her one of Washington, D.C.’s highest-paid public officials. Her memoirs and children’s books, however, have earned her more than $3.7 million since taking her position in 2009.
Among her published works are My Beloved World, a book about herself, and children’s books she wrote with co-authors, such as Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You. Her works are not performing well in the rankings, suggesting that sales would be quite low if her staff weren’t pushing universities and libraries into buying copies ahead of her visits.
The report is just the latest example of questionable ethical choices made by Supreme Court justices. The Senate Judiciary Committee recently advanced legislation requiring the nation’s highest court to adopt an official code of ethics in an 11-10 vote. The bill would also improve financial disclosure standards and create stronger requirements for recusal in cases where there is a conflict of interest.
Sources for this article include: