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Monday, June 17, 2024

KBJ and Beyoncé

Justice Jackson’s 2023 financial disclosure report revealed that she received four concert tickets from Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, valuing about $3,700. Patricia McCabe, the Supreme Court’s Public Information Officer, released a statement: “Justice Jackson is ‘Crazy in Love’ with Beyoncé’s music. Who isn’t?” (For those outside the hive, Beyoncé and her now-husband, Shawn Carter, a/k/a Jay-Z, recorded a hit song in 2003 titled Crazy in Love.) I am fairly confident that McCabe’s comment came directly from Justice Jackson. I can’t fathom a restrained public affairs official would volunteer this line on her own.

Since the press was too star-struck to provide any scrutiny for this gift–to the left, to the left, as usual–I will.

First, how is it appropriate for the Supreme Court’s press office to promote a Beyoncé song? Look at it this way: The celebrity gives free tickets to a Justice, and the Justice responds by highlighting how awesome Beyoncé’s music is through the press office. Does no one see the problem? Can you fathom what would happen if Clarence Thomas issued a statement: “Who isn’t in love with Harlan Crow’s yacht”? Or what if Lee Greenwood gave Justice Alito concert tickets, and PIO issued this statement: “God bless the U.S.A. Who isn’t Proud to be an American?” (Put that on a flag!) Again, there was a serious lapse in judgment here. But crickets from all the usual critics.

Second, it is true that millions of Americans love Beyoncé. And I’m sure there were many people inside the Beltway who would have loved free tickets to her concert at FedEx field. But Beyoncé does not hand out free tickets to her fans. How is it that KBJ scored four tickets? Did Jackson have some sort of pre-existing friendship with Beyoncé?  Did Jackson have some sort of pre-existing friendship with Oprah Winfrey, who gave her a $1,200 congratulatory floral arrangement in 2022? Why does this matter? When a real friend provides a gift, the understanding is that the gift is given due to some sort of genuine affection or prior relationship. But when a stranger, or a new friend provides a gift, the understanding is that the gift is to curry influence. When you become a Supreme Court Justice, you get lots of new “friends.” There is no such thing as a free lunch. Assuming Jackson had no prior relationship with Beyoncé or Oprah, it is a fair guess that the floral arrangement and concert tickets were designed to have some influence on the Justice. And it worked–she promoted a Beyoncé song on Supreme Court stationary! What an advertisement.

Third, these sort of gifts also perform a signaling function. Rule like Justice Jackson, and you will be feted by celebrities. Rule like Justice Kavanaugh and you can buy your tickets on StubHub. And what if Justice Jackson, like her namesake Robert H. Jackson, drifts to the right over her tenure? Would she still be invited to attend elite concerts? You know the answer is no. Poor Justice Kennedy gave the left Casey, RomerLawrenceWindsorWhoel Woman’s HealthObergefell, and so much more, but his “legacy” was tarnished by Trump v. Hawaii. And if I had to guess, these seats were in a private suite. The average ticket price was about $290, with the highest average ticket price was $651. What other celebrities were hanging out in that suite? The face-value for a ticket in these suites is misleading–the actual value is priceless. This gift, and other gifts like it, have the effect of keeping a Justice in place. The rules fully permit these gifts, so long as they are disclosed. But the impact of the gift is unmistakeable.

Now I do not think Jackson’s jurisprudence would actually be affected by this gift, or others. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by some of her opinions so far. She has an independent streak that is somewhat unpredictable. But I can say the same about Justice Thomas’s gifts. For all the outrage about Justice Thomas, no one doubts that he and Harlan Crow are genuine friends. They met nearly three decades ago, and have forged a close bond. Whatever generosity that Crow shares with Thomas is based on a kinship and connection that has been developed for years. I know that critics do not believe this, but it is true: Crow’s trips for Thomas would in no way affect his jurisprudence. I’ve heard stories about how not even Justice Thomas’s clerks can persuade him to change his mind. The man is a rock.

At bottom, Justice Jackson is praised for accepting largesse from the right kind of billionaire, while Justice Thomas is excoriated for accepting largesse from the wrong kind of billionaire.

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