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Our justices need help

April 24, 2023

Supreme Court justices shouldn't have to rely on the charity of billionaires to pay for vacations. We need to help them become independent.

Milt Policzer

By Milt Policzer

Courthouse News columnist; racehorse owner and breeder; one of those guys who always got picked last.

The tale of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his generous billionaire buddy has finally brought to light a serious issue hardly anyone has talked about — we’re not paying our justices enough.

Would Thomas need to accept yacht trips if he already owned a yacht? Would he need to hitch rides on someone else’s private jet if he had one parked in his back yard? Would he need to sell his family home if he owned a castle and could pay the servants?

I don’t think so.

If we’re going to be serious about the influence of money on Supreme Court justices, we’re going to need to pump more money into the system.

It’s no different than the rationale for lifetime tenure. We’ve always been told that justices should be given their posts for as long as they want them, no matter how senile they are, because that keeps them free from political pressure. That might have been true before billionaires were invented, but clearly forever jobs are no longer sufficient.

If your annual salary is a mere $285,000, how can you not be tempted by someone willing to spend more than that on just one vacation?

Obviously, the gifts to Thomas could be perfectly innocent. Dropping half a million on a weeklong yacht trip to Indonesia may sound pricey, but it’s like picking up the tab at Denny’s for a billionaire like Harlan Crow. Change that fell behind Crow’s couch cushions probably paid for all those summer trips to the private resort in the Adirondacks.

Heck, Crow may not have even noticed Thomas was there.

Still, I can understand why this looks kind of bad. It’s remotely possible that a conservative rich guy might want to influence someone who makes decisions affecting the entire country. That’s why we need to insulate justices from the need to supplement their incomes.

I suggest a base salary for justices of $500,000,000. I know that’s not a lot when there are motivated American oligarchs out there, but I think justices can get by with that.

By the way, this should not be a problem for the government. A mere annual $4.5 billion for the nine justices is a tiny fraction of the annual $3 trillion budget. It would be well worth it.

Of course I do see the same problem most of you are seeing — billionaires will lobby Congress not to pay justices what they’re worth. No one wants to give up clout.

I have two suggestions for properly funding the court.

One is pretty obvious: set up GoFundMe accounts for the Supreme Court justices. Donors can be offered prepublication copies of major rulings. Or maybe just T-shirts.

In a similar vein, justices should consider Patreon and Cameo. Picture the face of your favorite grumpy, racist relative getting birthday wishes from Ketanji Brown Jackson. What could be more satisfying?

My second suggestion is one that should appeal to all politicians: have legislators raise their own salaries to match (or exceed) those of the justices. Then they can’t be bought by billionaires either and will be perfectly willing to share the wealth with the court.

With enough money, we can get money out of politics.

Fox hunt. Money, however, doesn’t solve everything. Consider the $785.5 million settlement that Fox Corp. coughed up to end a defamation suit brought by Dominion Voting Systems. Is that what we wanted to see happen here?

Oh, sure, Dominion is probably happy to get the money, but does this really teach Fox a lesson? Money is just a number and Fox has lots of numbers.

Remember that the behind-the-scenes stuff that came out in discovery showed that Fox “journalists” lied because they were afraid to upset their viewers with truth.

Are Fox viewers getting truth now? It doesn’t seem that way. Fox isn’t even reporting the settlement — which is big news everywhere else.

Fortunately, there are a bunch of other lawsuits pending against Fox. We need to encourage other plaintiffs to hold out for a more satisfying settlement instead of mere money.

I have a few suggestions.

Fox must agree not only to report the settlements on air — repeatedly — but also require reporters to wear dunce caps.

Or Fox must agree to broadcast video of Tucker Carlson having sex with a green M&M.

Or Fox must agree to require the "Fox & Friends" people to define “woke” on their show, explain why they’re against it, and prove that anyone is for whatever they think it is.

Or Fox must substitute Jon Stewart for Sean Hannity.

Or maybe Fox should just fire a bunch of people and hire some real journalists.

I’m available for the right price.

Categories / Op-Ed

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