Some justices go to summer school

Monday, August 26, 2002

WASHINGTON -- Like most teachers, Supreme Court justices take a long summer vacation. And some justices, like some teachers, earn a little extra cash by teaching summer school.

As usual, the court finished this year's term by July and won't begin to hear cases again until October. The break allows for trips outside the capital and for busman's holidays spent lecturing law students in Italy or the Greek coast.

American law schools sponsor the programs, which typically offer salaries as well as travel, hotel and food expenses. Schools consider it a coup to land a Supreme Court lecturer, who gets headline billing and helps attract paying students.

Louis Del Duca, who directs overseas summer programs at Penn State's Dickinson School of Law, said justices and students benefit from the experience.

"It's the difference between learning from a printed text and having one mind exposed to another mind on the spot," said Del Duca, whose school has been host to about a half-dozen justices in recent summers. "There's no substitute for that."

Only Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg provided details of their teaching plans in response to a request from The Associated Press. Other justices did not teach this summer or did not respond. Representatives of three schools said they planned to pay salaries to justices this year but provided no details.

Some details of the teaching arrangements appear on the annual financial disclosure forms the justices file each spring. Justices must disclose salaries but not what sponsors pay to put them up.

In the past, some justices have declined offered salaries. Others have taken the maximum allowed -- 15 percent of their federal salary

Back from Europe

At Dickinson's invitation, Rehnquist lectured in Strasbourg, France, this summer on the Supreme Court in American history. He collected $12,500 for teaching at the same forum last year.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy reprised a course called "Fundamental Rights in Europe and the United States" in Salzburg, Austria, sponsored by the University of the Pacific's McGeorge School of Law. He was paid $16,500 for the seminar last year.

Ginsburg is back from teaching in Siena, Italy, organized by Tulane University, and Justice Antonin Scalia taught constitutional law at St. Mary's University Institute on World Legal Problems at Innsbruck, Austria.

Justices Sandra Day O'Connor, Stephen Breyer and John Paul Stevens have taught similar European sessions in past years.

An ethical debate surrounds judicial seminars sponsored by law schools with corporate or other outside underwriting. Federal judges hear lectures that frequently have pro-business themes while being wined and dined for a few days.

Unlike those sessions, paid teaching stints raise no serious conflict of interest issues for the justices, legal ethics specialists said. Sponsoring law schools are unlikely to be the subject of future court cases, and the justices stick to teaching basic subjects, law professors said.

Still, the justices and some of the schools that hire them are reluctant to discuss salary arrangements, which come on top of the justices' regular government salaries of $192,600 for Rehnquist and $184,400 for his eight junior colleagues.

"We live in a society where people have to live with not just the reality but the appearance of impropriety," said Vikram David Amar, law professor at the University of California, Hastings. "I don't think the amount of money involved is going to warp anybody's perspective, however."

'Full day's work'

Gary Ruskin, director of the Congressional Accountability Project, a watchdog group that has opposed pay raises for members of Congress and federal judges, does not like the idea of moonlighting justices.

"Supreme Court justices are paid generously, and they are expected to spend full time on the taxpayers' business," Ruskin said. "That doesn't mean we control every moment of their time, but it is reasonable to expect a full day's work for a full day's pay."

Justices may take vacations as they wish, but they are never entirely off duty. They always are on call to vote on last-minute death row appeals and other emergency cases, and they must keep up with a daunting summer reading list of cases before the court.

Justices Clarence Thomas and David H. Souter do their reading away from Washington and away from the classroom. Thomas hits the road for much of the summer in a plush motor home, and Justice David H. Souter repairs to the woods of New Hampshire.

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