The Supreme Court has defended Justice Sonia Sotomayor against a report claiming staffers "prodded" colleges and libraries to buy her books.
Through more than 100 open records requests to public institutions, The Associated Press reported that it received tens of thousands of pages of documents offering "a rare look at Sotomayor and her fellow justices beyond their official duties." The report suggested having taxpayer-funded court staff perform tasks for Sotomayor's book ventures, which have earned her at least $3.7 million since she joined the court in 2009, could raise ethics concerns – but noted that the Supreme Court has no set code of conduct banning the practice.
The AP specifically pointed to email exchanges involving Sotomayor’s staff related to the planning of appearances at Oregon’s Multnomah County Library, as well as several universities.
In a response to the AP, a page-long statement from the Supreme Court insisted that there was nothing illicit going on.
"Judges, including Justices, routinely travel and speak to university, college and law school audiences and affiliated individuals and entities. Judicial staff play an important role in assisting on issues of ethics, travel, and security," the statement said. "Chambers staff assist the Justices in complying with judicial ethics guidance for such visits, including guidance relating to judges’ publications. For example, judicial ethics guidance suggests that a judge may sign copies of his or her work, which may also be available for sale, but there should be no requirement or suggestion that attendees are required to purchase books in order to attend."
The statement denied that attendees of events featuring Sotomayor were ever required to purchase her book. This appeared to be in response to AP reporting on a 2019 email exchange between a Sotomayor aide and library and community college officials in Portland, Oregon, to promote her new children’s book, "Just Ask!"
"For an event with 1,000 people and they have to have a copy of Just Ask to get into the line, 250 books is definitely not enough," the aide, Anh Le, reportedly wrote staffers at the Multnomah County Library. "Families purchase multiples and people will be upset if they are unable to get in line because the book required is sold out."
The Multnomah County Library addressed the event in a statement sent to Fox News Digital, stating that they were "proud to partner with Portland Community College" to host the talk with Sotomayor, but that a "local independent bookseller made books available for purchase at the event."
The Supreme Court’s statement said that requiring people to buy or bring their own copy of a book to get in line for a signing "would in no way conflict with" judicial ethics guidelines.
Other Sotomayor appearances the AP reported on include commencement weekend at the University of California Davis Law School, when her staff reportedly pitched officials there on buying copies of signed books in connection with the event; a visit to the University of Wisconsin, where her staff suggested a book signing; a 2017 appearance at Clemson University in South Carolina, where school officials offered to buy 60 signed copies of her book, but Sotomayor’s staff reportedly noted that most schools order around 400; and in 2018 when Michigan State University asked Sotomayor to come to campus and spent more than $100,000 on copies of her memoir, "My Beloved World," to distribute to incoming first-year students. The books were shipped to the Supreme Court, where copies were taken to her chambers by court workers and signed by her before being sent to the school.
When reached by Fox News Digital, UC Davis Law School declined to comment on the AP report.
In an email to Fox News Digital, Michigan State University spokesperson Emily Gerkin Guerrant stated that the AP report did not provide the whole story.
"A big detail missing from the AP story is that this book was selected as part of the East Lansing One Book One Community effort. This is a joint effort between the city of East Lansing and Michigan State University. While MSU did purchase copies of the book to give to incoming first year students (and does for the selected book most years), the selection of the book is done via a joint committee of university and community members," Guerrant said. "Justice Sotomayor was an honored guest in 2018, and we were very happy to have her on campus and her participation in the One Book One Community program."
According to the AP report, emails showed Sotomayor’s publisher, Penguin Random House, also has played a role in organizing her talks, "in some cases pressing public institutions to commit to buying a specific number of copies or requesting that attendees purchase books to obtain tickets." The report stated that the publisher has had several matters before the court in which Sotomayor did not recuse herself.
The Supreme Court’s statement to the AP stated that "[a]n inadvertent omission failed to bring Penguin’s participation in several cases to her attention," but that the cases "ultimately were not selected for review by the Court," and that "[c]hambers’ conflict check procedures have since been changed."
Fox News Digital also independently reached out to the Supreme Court, the University of Wisconsin, Clemson University, and Penguin Random House for comment on the AP's reporting but did not immediately hear back.
Sotomayor is far from the only member of the court to take speaking engagements, and the court defended the practice in its response to the AP.
"The Justices engage in extrajudicial activities such as speaking on both legal and nonlegal subjects, and the Code of Conduct encourages public engagement by judges to avoid isolation from the society in which they live and to contribute to the public’s understanding of the law."
Fox News' Haley Chi-Sing and The Associated Press contributed to this report.