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George Mason's Scalia Law School is a generous employer for Supreme Court justices, records show

U.S. Supreme Court justices can legally only earn outside income from certain sources, primarily writing books, investments, and teaching. George Mason University's Antonin Scalia Law School has made a deliberate effort to hire conservative justices as teachers — and "strategic assets" it its campaign to make Scalia Law "a Yale or Harvard of conservative legal scholarship and influence," The New York Times reports, citing internal records it obtained through freedom of information requests and other documents. 

George Mason, a public university in northern Virginia, established its law school in the late 1970s, and it always had a conservative bent, the Times reports. But it jump-started its campaign to become a central cog in the conservative judicial ecosystem when it changed its name after Scalia's death in 2016. The rebranding was "the result of a $30 million gift brokered by Leonard Leo, prime architect of a grand project then gathering force to transform the federal judiciary and further the legal imperatives of the right," the Times notes.

Internal documents show that the law school considered "building a strong relationship" with Scalia's replacement, Justice Neil Gorsuch, "a game-changing opportunity." Gorsuch was invited to help pick the Italian city where he would teach a two-week seminar during the summer of 2017 — they chose Padua — and by the winter of 2019, Justices Clarance Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh were also on Scalia Law faculty, the Times reports. Kavanaugh was flown to England for his teaching job. Thomas teaches at the Virginia campus.

"For teaching summer courses that generally ran for up to two weeks, Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh each made salaries that approached the legal cap on certain outside income, roughly $30,000 in recent years," the Times reports. The university covered at least travel and housing for the justices and their families. "Some of this sounds like all-expenses-paid vacations, with a little teaching thrown in," Amanda Frost, a law professor at the University of Virginia who specializes in legal ethics, tells the Times

Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Thomas also regularly used Supreme Court employees to prepare for their outside teaching, violating an advisory the justices say they voluntarily comply with, the Times reports. And a number of their co-professors have filed amicus briefs that the justices sometimes cite in oral arguments or opinions. Read more about this peek behind the Supreme Court's tightly drawn curtains at The New York Times.