Apparently law firm partner is the new, big-time job. Or it’s the old, new big-time job. While senior partners at law firms have long migrated to better-paid senior roles at investment banks, it’s been reported that the migration has to some degree reversed itself. Most famously, Robert Kindler, Morgan Stanley’s Global M&A Chair, recently departed the investment bank for the apparently greener pastures of law firm Paul Weiss.
How can those on the Supreme Court not notice the enormous pay enjoyed by private-sector attorneys? Supreme Court justices earn roughly $268,000/year, and they can earn up to $30,000 annually from outside teaching. To most that’s very good money, but it surely doesn’t stretch very far in the Washington, D.C. area. Here’s your Samuel Alito scandal, though it’s probably not the one you think it is.
It’s said that Alito violated no rules in not disclosing a flight on a billionaire’s private jet to a fancy Alaskan fishing trip, but since when do the ethical just follow the rules? After which, does anyone seriously think Alito would have been on the Alaskan trip if he’d been a district judge in New Mexico? About the question, it’s not meant to insinuate for even a second that billionaire investor Paul Singer included Alito in order to curry judicial favor. Nor does it insinuate anything untoward about Alito taking the trip. If anything it’s a comment.
The hardly revelatory comment here is that if you’re senior in a government that spends trillions annually, money finds you. Always and everywhere. In which case money similarly finds you if you're a judge capable of restraining (or not) that which spends trillions annually. It’s almost a cliché so obvious is it, but money finds power.
Which means the friendship between Supreme Court justices and billionaires is a statement of the obvious. Powerful, prominent people like to socialize with prominent people in government capable of wielding power. To rant about private flights and expensive vacations is yelling at the scoreboard. The reality is that the federal government is way too large and way too powerful, only for the recent ProPublica revelations to “shock” in the way that gambling inside Rick’s Café shocked. The revelations are a symptom of the aforementioned problem.
Still, it reads as insufficient the way that conservatives are siding with Alito on the matter. While he may be ethically pure, isn’t the point of “public service” that judges and politicians forego private pay so that they can “serve”? Oh well, at least it was. Or it at least was in a rhetorical sense. In reality, seemingly every elected official and judge in Washington “departs” the city richer. How, given the pay?
Among politicians, the answer to this question is obvious. We see through Hunter Biden that money finds friends and family members of prominent politicians. Joe Biden earned a politician's salary for decades, but has a net worth of how much today? To show that it’s not partisan, how has a career politician like Marco Rubio already paid off six figures worth of student loan debt?
Perhaps judges are no different. While they earn relatively little they travel like billionaires, they get much better book deals than the average legal scholar, and one guesses their family members similarly enjoy jobs that wouldn’t otherwise be available to them. Again, all symptoms, but bad ones.
The “scandal” is supposedly fancy trips taken by judges. No, that misses the point. The real scandal is that lawyers are paid more than ever, but none of the lawyers on the Supreme Court are leaving for the pay.