Inside the AP’s investigation into the ethics practices of the Supreme Court justices

Jul 11, 2023, 2:30 AM

WASHINGTON (AP) — public colleges, universities and other institutions that have hosted the justices over the past decade.

Here’s a look at how the reporting was done:

To conduct its review, the AP surveyed local news stories and social media and obtained data from ScotusTracker, a website that logged justices’ activities, to develop a list of appearances over the past 10 years.

In late 2022 and early this year, the AP submitted records requests to the public institutions on that list, citing individual state statutes that require the disclosure of certain documents to the public.

The requests sought a broad range of information, including details about any contracts or riders for the appearances; transportation to and from events as well as food and lodging; the recording policy for the event; and any gifts or honorarium discussed or offered, including books.

The AP separately queried more than 100 private colleges, universities and charities that have also hosted justices or organized events for them, requesting that they provide the same information that was asked of public institutions. Some confirmed basic details of the visits, but few provided substantive information.

The AP cataloged the travel and perks afforded to the justices. The AP also compiled lists of guests, including donors and politicians, who were invited to private receptions with justices and vetted them wherever possible against information in federal court records, Federal Election Commission filings, online photo albums of events and other publicly available data.

The responses among public institutions varied widely. Some schools, including the University of Rhode Island, Ohio State University, Stony Brook University and the University of California, Davis, provided records free of charge. Some schools turned over thousands of pages of records, including George Mason University and the University of Kentucky.

McLennan Community College in Waco, Texas, produced 104 pages of records in March and then, following a $110 payment, shipped by mail a box of blue folders containing hundreds more pages. A reporting trip was also taken there so that a journalist could observe firsthand the site of a dinner that the college organized for Justice Clarence Thomas.

In some instances, AP filed multiple requests with the same institution, either because the school asked that the initial request be substantially narrowed or because an initial response suggested that even more details might be available. In the case of the University of Texas at Tyler, for instance, the AP filed a follow-up request to obtain a guest list for a dinner with Thomas. A follow-up request was filed with the University of Mississippi for the cost of a flight that carried Justice Elena Kagan, Justice Antonin Scalia and Scalia’s son and grandson in 2014.

Some institutions were less forthcoming. The AP went to the Illinois state attorney general to get a binding opinion directing the Chicago Public Library to produce documents related to a visit by Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Other schools, including the University of Arizona, have said their search for records remained ongoing after more than six months.

The AP did pay some schools for documents, including $350 to the University of Utah; $140 to Michigan State University; $159.24 to the University of Minnesota; and roughly $150 to the University of Mississippi.

But some schools responded to records requests with fee demands that the AP deemed unreasonable. The initial fee cited by the University of Georgia for processing two requests was $18,800.50, though it was later reduced after the AP narrowed its request.


The Associated Press receives support from several private foundations to enhance its explanatory coverage of elections and democracy. See more about the AP’s democracy initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

United States News

Associated Press

3 falcon chicks hatch atop the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge in New York City

NEW YORK (AP) — Three peregrine falcon chicks have hatched in a nest built at the top of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge in New York City, officials said. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority Bridges and Tunnels said Friday that the chicks hatched in a nesting box set up by the agency atop a 693-foot-tall (211-meter-tall) tower on […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Baltimore police fatally shoot a man who pulls gun during questioning; detective injured

BALTIMORE (AP) — Police officers in Baltimore fatally shot a man who pulled a gun while they questioned him in a different shooting, authorities said. A detective was shot in the chest, and his protective vest likely saved his life, Police Commissioner Richard Worley told reporters. Police were on the city’s south side investigating a […]

3 hours ago

Associated Press

California teenager arrested after violent swarm pounded and kicked a deputy’s car

HIGHLAND, Calif. (AP) — A teenager was taken into custody after a crowd of young people swarmed a deputy’s patrol car earlier this month, kicking and punching the vehicle before the deputy could drive away, a California sheriff’s office said this week. The 15-year-old male allegedly opened the driver’s door of the San Bernardino Sheriff’s […]

3 hours ago

Travelers walk through Salt Lake City International Airport Friday, May 24, 2024, in Salt Lake City...

Associated Press

Record broken for most travelers screened at US airports on Friday, according to TSA

A record was broken ahead of the Memorial Day weekend for the number of airline travelers screened at U.S. airports.

5 hours ago

Associated Press

Biden’s message to West Point graduates: You’re being asked to tackle threats ‘like none before’

WEST POINT, N.Y. (AP) — President Joe Biden on Saturday told graduates of the U.S. Military Academy that their class is being called upon to tackle threats across the globe and preserve the country’s ideals at home “like none before.” Biden said the phrase, the class motto, was apt for the sorts of challenges they […]

7 hours ago

Associated Press

Forecasters warn Oklahoma may see tornadoes; Texas could bake in triple-digit temperatures

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Forecasters are warning of another day of heightened risk of dangerous tornadoes in the Midwest on Saturday and telling people in south Texas they may experience triple-digit temperatures — and that’s with four weeks to go before summer starts. The weather service in Oklahoma compared the day to “a gasoline-soaked brush […]

9 hours ago

Sponsored Articles


Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s how to be worry-free when your A/C goes out in the middle of summer

PHOENIX -- As Arizona approaches another hot summer, Phoenix residents are likely to spend more time indoors.



Desert Institute for Spine Care is the place for weekend warriors to fix their back pain

Spring has sprung and nothing is better than March in Arizona. The temperatures are perfect and with the beautiful weather, Arizona has become a hotbed for hikers, runners, golfers, pickleball players and all types of weekend warriors.


Midwestern University

Midwestern University Clinics: transforming health care in the valley

Midwestern University, long a fixture of comprehensive health care education in the West Valley, is also a recognized leader in community health care.

Inside the AP’s investigation into the ethics practices of the Supreme Court justices