Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

Liberal SCOTUS Justice Took $3M From Book Publisher, Didn’t Recuse From Its Cases

Posted by M. C. on May 4, 2023

Random House was her main source of earned income, but she voted on key decision where publisher stood to lose money, even as similarly-positioned colleague recused.

If you did that…it would gray bar hotel.

By  Luke Rosiak

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 07: United States Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor (L) and Associate Justice Clarence Thomas (R) pose for their official portrait. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC – OCTOBER 07: United States Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor (L) and Associate Justice Clarence Thomas (R) pose for their official portrait. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Liberal Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor declined to recuse herself from multiple copyright infringement cases involving book publisher Penguin Random House despite having been paid millions by the firm for her books, making it by far her largest source of income, records show.

In 2010, she got a $1.2 million book advance from Knopf Doubleday Group, a part of the conglomerate. In 2012, she reported receiving two advance payments from the publisher totaling $1.9 million.

In 2013, Sotomayor voted in a decision for whether the court should hear a case against the publisher called Aaron Greenspan v. Random House, despite then-fellow Justice Stephen Breyer recusing after also receiving money from the publisher. Greenspan was a Harvard classmate of Mark Zuckerberg’s who wrote a book about the founding of Facebook and contended that Random House rejected his book proposal and then awarded a deal to another author who copied his book and eventually turned it into the movie The Social Network.

In 2017, Sotomayor began receiving payments each year from Penguin Random House itself, which continued annually through at least 2021, the most recent disclosure available, and totaled more than $500,000. In all, she received $3.6 million from Penguin Random House or its subsidiaries, according to a Daily Wire tally of financial disclosures.

In October 2019, children’s author Jennie Nicassio petitioned the Supreme Court to hear her lawsuit against Penguin Random House alleging that the book publisher had copied her book by selling one that was nearly identical. On the same day that the petition was distributed to the justices, Sotomayor received a $10,586 check from the publisher.

On February 24, 2020, the Supreme Court voted not to hear the case, denying the “writ of certiorari” and meaning that the case would remain where it left off — with a circuit court having found in the publisher’s favor. Sotomayor’s next check, coming in May of that year, was her largest ever from the parent company, at $82,807.

The Supreme Court does not reveal how individual justices vote when it comes to “cert,” but it does note when they recuse, which Sotomayor did not. Her decision not to recuse is particularly notable because Breyer again recused. Breyer received payments from Penguin Random House or Knopf each year, which he seemingly viewed as a conflict, even though he received only a tenth of the amount — $340,000 during the same time period — as Sotomayor (Breyer’s wife also wrote a book for the company).

The Penguin Random House money dwarfed the pay that Sotomayor received from the court and made up all of her reported outside earned income, with the exception of $6,000 in payments from groups — some of which related to her book — and a $5,000 “option fee,” which typically relates to books, according to the disclosures. The publisher also footed the bill for her to speak to various groups. Breyer, by contrast, would typically have those groups foot the bill.

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