Living the high life on a government salary

The members of the US Supreme Court and high elected officials get good salaries and many perks of the job. For example, the salary of the Chief Justice is $258,100 while that of the associate justices is $246,800. This should enable them to live quite comfortably even in the pricey Washington, DC area. What it does not allow for is the ability to live like the millionaire class.

But such positions bring them into contact with extremely wealthy people who seek to influence them, and their social circle will frequently include those who are much richer than them. Hence it is possible that they may be tempted to also try and live the high life without the income to sustain it, the kind of behavior that often leads to financial ruin for people who want to keep up with the Joneses.

But since many of the wealthy seek to curry favor with these politically and legally powerful people in order to get favors, they may use the offer of vacations and parties and meals and the like to get on their good side. This can tempt some government officials to think that they can live extremely well without actually spending any money.

The death of Antonin Scalia at an exclusive resort owned by a wealthy individual where people can come only by invitation and to which Scalia traveled to by private plane has opened a window into this world of expensive gifts and hospitality.

Scalia was at the Cibolo Creek Ranch, a resort tucked away in the Big Bend region of Texas about 30 miles from the border with Mexico.

The ranch is 30,000-acre getaway that is home to John B. Poindexter, according to the website of J.B. Poindexter & Co. It is a remote location that has reportedly attracted the likes of Mick Jagger, Jerry Hall and Bruce Willis.

All of which raises the question: Who pays for a Supreme Court justice to make this kind of trip?

Not Scalia, it turns out. Poindexter told The Washington Post that Scalia was not charged for his stay, something he described as a policy for all guests at the ranch.

However, Poindexter said he did not pay for Scalia’s charter flight to Texas.

The nature of Poindexter’s relationship with Scalia remained unclear Tuesday, one of several lingering questions about his visit. It was not known whether Scalia had paid for his own ticket to fly to the ranch or if someone else picked up the tab, just as it was not immediately clear if Scalia had visited before.

The article said that Scalia attended with an unidentified ‘friend’, someone who, like Poindexter, had cases before the Supreme Court and who may have paid for the flight there.

It is also still not known who else was at the Texas ranch for the weekend, and unless that is revealed, there could be concerns about who could have tried to raise an issue around Scalia, said Stephen Gillers, who teaches legal and judicial ethics at the New York University School of Law. He compared it to unease that arises when judges and officials from major companies are invited to seminars or educational events that bring them together for periods of time.

“People worry at those kinds of things; there’s a creation of access on the part of people with an interest in the courts, and that is unfair,” Gillers said Tuesday.

It turns out that Scalia loved these subsidized pricey vacations and took 258 of them in a ten-year period, the most of any justice.

There seems to be something deeply alluring about living the fancy lifestyle. The recipients of such gifts may like to think that they are disciplined and high-minded enough that they will not be influenced by being treated so lavishly by those who have business before them, but there is something definitely unseemly about public servants staying at fancy resorts as guests of the rich and famous who need something from them. It causes the rest of us to doubt the impartiality of those who should be acting in the public interest.


  1. Menyambal says

    Wow. Just to add to the disgust, the “hunting” at the ranch consisted of shooting birds being released from cages.

  2. Jockaira says

    It turns out that Scalia loved these subsidized pricey vacations and took 258 of them in a ten-year period, the most of any justice.

    Vacation twice a month paid by someone else! Salary: $246,800. When does that leave time to do work?

    Sounds like a good deal, but are there any fringe benefits?

  3. deepak shetty says

    In most third world countries like India -- We’d look at this and say -- Meh -- Bribes.
    It comes as quite a surprise that this is legal in first world countries.

  4. says

    Don’t politicians have to disclose gifts? One wonders why it’s any different for the SCOTUS, or any other judge for that matter. I suppose one way to fix this is to pay them even more, but would that really fix it? It would raise the wealth bar for those who could “impress” the judges with wealth. And, the money, while it goes a long way, isn’t the only way to influence a judge.

  5. DonDueed says

    That number (258 over 10 years) is highly suggestive. It’s exactly one every two weeks on average. It makes me wonder — was it one every two weeks, exactly? Did Scalia have a schedule? Was it known in certain circles that if you wanted access to a SCOTUS justice, all you had to do was sign up to sponsor one of his fortnightly weekend jaunts?

    If that was the way it worked, it’s an astonishing system of organized corruption, well beyond the wink-wink nod-nod level.

  6. says

    The recipients of such gifts may like to think that they are disciplined and high-minded enough that they will not be influenced

    Let’s be clear: that’s an irrelevant lie — what it shows is that someone has a supreme court justice’s phone number and can contact them personally. That access, in and of itself, is valuable. Even if a supreme court justice doesn’t feel they owe you something, having them pick up your phone call’s probably work $10,000 a pop.

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