Law \ Legal

Stumped On How To Spend The Untaxed $1.6 Billion Gift You Just Received To Remake The Judiciary? Here Are Some Ideas…

Supreme Court Day Staci Zaretsky

(Photo by Staci Zaretsky)

Ed. note: Please welcome Gabe Roth of Fix the Court to the pages of Above the Law.

In light of the record $1.6 billion gift Leonard Leo has received to support his antediluvian views of politics and the law, I got to thinking about what I, as the leader of a nonprofit dedicated to court transparency in the 21st century, would do with that amount of money. If I came up with something good, maybe he’d hand the money over to me? As you read this, I’m already on my way to Maine to pitch Leo on the following:

  • Pay off everyone’s PACER fees for a year: $143 million
  • For every federal courtroom in the country, buy cameras and equipment to facilitate livestreaming and a hire tech person to manage the streams for the next decade: $50 million
  • Hire one researcher per active and senior justice for a decade to ensure every speech is recorded, every trip is reported, and every paper is accounted for: $20 million
  • Establish the Antonin Scalia Chair for Judicial Opacity at Harvard and George Mason (you know how many free, unreported hunting trips the guy went on?): $20 million
  • Invite 25 legal ethicists to D.C., put them up in the Mandarin Oriental for a week, and ask them to hash out the text of a Supreme Court Code of Conduct: $150,000
  • Start a 501(c)(4) to push congressional Dems who are “still considering” whether they support SCOTUS term limits to put their names on one of the bills: $25 million
  • In case the legislative path to SCOTUS term limits doesn’t work out, start Fix the Court chapters in all 50 states (though we’d only need 38 to get on board) to lobby legislatures to pass constitutional amendment resolutions on term limits: $10 million, plus another $25 million on ads
  • Buy Ring home security systems for our 2,400 federal judges, since whatever they have right now is from a single unnamed federal contractor, and tons of judges aren’t using it (p. 3 of PDF), so someone needs to offer a better option, walk them through it, and maintain it for the next decade: $10 million
  • Buy a 49% stake in the Mets: $1.2985 billion. Part of this would include changing the team’s name to the Court-Fixers for the last week in June, during which we’d have the following bobblehead giveaways:
    • Sunday: Prof. Pam Karlan, for convincing SCOTUS to end oral argument place-holding in the Bar line
    • Monday: Prof. Richard Lazarus, for convincing SCOTUS to post corrections to slip opinions online
    • Tuesday: Fifth Circuit Judge Robert Ainsworth, Jr., for writing the opinion upholding the judicial financial disclosure requirements in the 1978 Ethics in Government Act
    • Wednesday: Justice John Marshall Harlan II, for writing “[T]he day may come when television will have become so commonplace an affair in the daily life of the average person as to dissipate all reasonable likelihood that its use in courtrooms may disparage the judicial process”
    • Thursday: Justice Tom Clark, for being the justice among the 116 to serve the closest to 18 years and for retiring to avoid a barrage of recusals
    • Friday: Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, for writing the opinion upholding age limits for Missouri judges
    • Saturday: Justice Thurgood Marshall, for giving the public access to his papers upon his death

There are countless ways to spend this ungodly amount of cash, of course. But what’s clear is the goal of the gift is to use the judiciary as a tool to push our country backwards, to a time before we were a modern, pluralistic society. One-point-six billion dollars is a lot of Benjamins — and it’ll sadly cement the legacies of Clarence, John, Sam, Neil, Brett, and Amy unless there are significant changes to SCOTUS, and fast.

Gabe Roth is the executive director of Fix the Court, a nonpartisan, 501(c)(3) organization that advocates for a more open and accountable federal judiciary. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and 13-month-old daughter.

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