When Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died earlier this month, some noticed that Scalia died in the lodge of a friend who earlier received a favorable Supreme Court decision. It turns out that Scalia had taken hundreds of “free” trips while sitting on the Supreme Court.
According to the New York Times’s examination of the Center for Responsive Politics database, Scalia took at least 258 privately subsidized trips between 2004 and 2014. In 2014, Scalia traveled to Ireland, Switzerland, and Hawaii. Out of all the Supreme Court Justices, Scalia had the most subsidized trips by far, followed by John Roberts at 148.
Although many of the trips were for official reasons, like giving speeches, observing judiciary events, or teaching classes, at least several were vacations, or at least disguised vacations. In 2011, Scalia came under fire when the Koch Brothers paid for Scalia and Justice Samuel Alito to take 21 trips while the Koch-affiliated Citizen’s United case was pending. Scalia declined to remove himself from the ruling.
J.B. Poindexter, the owner of the ranch Scalia died with, was named in an age discrimination suit last year. The Supreme Court found in Poindexter’s favor after which Poindexter gave Scalia a free trip to his hunting ranch.
Although Scalia’s gifts may seem strange, it is unfortunately common practice for the Supreme Court, and it is entirely legal. Justices can take gifts and free trips, even from the subject of a case, as long as they promise to stay impartial. Justices do not even need to report the trips and gifts that they receive.