Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor reads from a children's book, showing the pictures.

No, Sonia Sotomayor’s Children’s Book Sales Are Not the Same as Clarence Thomas’ Ethics Mess

In light of the news that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has accepted millions of dollars worth of gifts from conservative billionaires, some are trying to deflect attention and mitigate the seriousness of that situation by equating it to fellow Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s children’s book sales. Except they aren’t even close to being equivalent.

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Thomas’ scandal has been going on for nearly two decades, as he reportedly started accepting excessive gifts beginning in 2004. Many of his gifts were bestowed by Harlan Crow, a billionaire known for being a megadonor to the GOP. Meanwhile, newer reports reveal that Thomas began refraining from disclosing the gifts he received after 2004, despite justices being required to do so. The gifts he accepted from multiple billionaires with GOP ties included 38 free luxury vacations, dozens of flights in private jets and helicopters, and at least a dozen pricey sporting event passes. The shocking report has called into question his impartiality, as it’s difficult to believe such gifts would have been given to him if he wasn’t a Supreme Court Justice. Additionally, his failure to disclose such gifts or their sources was misleading and potentially illegal.

Before Thomas’ scandal broke, AP News released a report probing Sotomayor’s book sales and promotions. Sotomayor has published several books during her career, including four children’s and middle-grade books. Justices are permitted to publish books, and their earnings from book deals are exempt from the usual restrictions on outside income. They are also permitted to attend book signings and sell books at such events.

However, the report alleged that Sotomayor’s staff pressured colleges and libraries hosting the justice to purchase hundreds or thousands of copies of her books. It claimed that Sotomayor may have unethically made public appearances in exchange for book sales. However, most of the evidence consisted of her staff asking fairly standard questions to gauge the needs of these events and provide recommendations.

The Sonia Sotomayor and Clarence Thomas situations are not equivalent

In light of the damning report on Thomas, conservatives have been trying to resurface Sotomayor’s book situation to claim that it’s the same as Thomas’ blatantly unethical conduct. Even on the surface, one can tell that they’re obviously not the same. Sotomayor may have received heightened book sales for putting in the work and travel to speak to a variety of audiences (including children), answer their questions, and attempt to educate and inspire them. Meanwhile, Thomas accepted millions of dollars worth of vacations, private jet flights, and sporting events passes to live a billionaire lifestyle as a Supreme Court justice.

A new op-ed in The Washington Post further shows that things are quite different between Sotomayor’s and Thomas’s situations below the surface, too. Margaret McMullan wrote an article detailing how she invited Sotomayor to speak at the Mississippi Book Festival. Given the recent conversation about ethics, she asked herself if the situation constituted “bribing” Sotomayor. However, it quickly becomes clear that it wasn’t “bribing,” and she refutes every allegation from the AP News report.

According to McMullan, Sotomayor denied the $250 stipend she was offered for appearing and denied having her flight, hotel, or meal costs covered. McMullan was not pressured or required to buy hundreds of books, although she was asked standard questions about her wants and needs for copies of the book, which actually helped her realize that having a few Spanish copies would be an excellent idea. As for Sotomayor, she spent two days in the heat of Mississippi summer talking to kids, answering their questions, hugging them, posing for pictures with them, and signing their books.

Yes, she might have made some royalties on the book sales from the event, but those royalties don’t add up to much on a purchase of even 1,500 books. Needless to say, deriving the sole unintentional benefit of a few hundred dollars in book royalties from taking the time to travel to Mississippi and talk to a bunch of kids has absolutely nothing in common with accepting 38 free vacations from conservative billionaires.

Moreover, even if Sotomayor’s actions had been unethical, then the reasonable response would be to call for accountability for all Supreme Court Justices, not to shrug our shoulders and give up on caring about the ethics of the court just because liberal justices might engage in bad behavior as well as the conservatives.

(featured image: Paul Morigi/Getty Images)


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Rachel Ulatowski
Rachel Ulatowski is a Staff Writer for The Mary Sue, who frequently covers DC, Marvel, Star Wars, literature, and celebrity news. She has over three years of experience in the digital media and entertainment industry, and her works can also be found on Screen Rant, JustWatch, and Tell-Tale TV. She enjoys running, reading, snarking on YouTube personalities, and working on her future novel when she's not writing professionally. You can find more of her writing on Twitter at @RachelUlatowski.