May 8, 2023

Justice Sonia Sotomayor Didn’t Recuse Herself From Cases Involving Her Publisher

Justice Sonia Sotomayor voted on whether the Supreme Court should hear lawsuits against Penguin Random House, which has paid her $3.6 million since 2010.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor Didn’t Recuse Herself From Cases Involving Her Publisher
Supreme Court justices, 2022

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By Joanna Button

What’s happening: The liberal Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor has drawn criticism for not recusing herself from cases involving Penguin Random House, a book publisher she has received millions of dollars from. She previously also failed to disclose the funding of six trips in 2016, before correcting her financial disclosures in 2021.

Why it matters: Conservative Supreme Court justices have faced many accusations of financial misconduct recently—Justice Clarence Thomas was criticized for not disclosing trips funded by a wealthy friend, for example. Senate Democrats have called for stricter disclosure rules, but Republicans argue they’re attempting to delegitimize the Supreme Court in retaliation for its recent conservative rulings.

Financial ties: Justice Sotomayor, appointed in 2009, has since written a handful of books published by Penguin Random House or its subsidiaries. Financial disclosures show she received $3.1 million in book advances in 2010-12 and yearly royalty payments totaling over $500,000 from 2017 to 2021. It is by far her largest source of income.

The cases: The Supreme Court voted against hearing two cases accusing Penguin Random House of copyright infringement in 2013 and 2020. Although the Court doesn’t show which justices voted against hearing a case, it notes which justices recuse themselves. Justice Sotomayor voted in both instances, despite the conflict of interest. Justice Neil Gorsuch, appointed by President Donald Trump in 2017, received $330,000 from Penguin Random House for his book in 2019 and also didn’t recuse himself from the 2020 case. In contrast, former Justice Stephen Breyer recused himself from both cases due to his financial ties to the publisher.

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