John Roberts bankrupts law students

The Supreme Court justice is paid thousands to "teach" in Europe -- and his law students are footing the bill

Topics: Supreme Court, John Roberts, law school, student loans, Ireland, Malta, Debt, Editor's Picks,

John Roberts bankrupts law studentsChief Justice John Roberts (Credit: AP/Alan Diaz)

Any privileged person in this country who wants to remain complacent about the social status quo would be well-advised not to consider exactly where his money comes from. Here’s a small but telling example. Federal judges are required to file disclosure forms regarding other sources of income they may have besides their federal salaries and benefits. A glance at Chief Justice John Roberts’ 2009 form  (the most recent available to the public) reveals the following entry:

“New England School of Law, Summer Program, Galway, Ireland – teaching stipend: $15,000.”

Another part of the form reveals that the same school reimbursed Roberts for his airfare, meals and lodging for at least the two-week period during which the course — on the history of the Supreme Court — was held.  Roberts co-taught the course, which met seven times for two-hour periods, with a law professor, Richard Lazarus.

Roberts and Lazarus taught the same course on the scenic island of Malta last summer, and will do so again amid the charming old world architecture of Prague this July.  (Lazarus did not respond to my request for information regarding what he was being paid to teach the course or how responsibility for teaching and grading it was divided between himself and the chief justice).

Now it might seem petty to inquire too closely into such matters.  After all, Roberts no doubt took a very large pay cut when he left a fancy law firm to become chief justice (although his $220,000 salary for eight months of work – a salary he will receive for life should he choose to retire – hardly signifies a vow of poverty).

The problem is not so much that Roberts is being paid $1,000 an hour to teach a fluffy course on Great Moments in Supreme Court Argument, or that he is in effect getting an all-expenses-paid European vacation every summer (first-class airfare from Washington to Prague is nearly $12,000). It’s that this annual fringe benefit is being paid for by tax dollars, which are first funneled through law students, who are financially wrecking themselves by borrowing those dollars to pay for useless degrees.

Here’s how it works:  The course Roberts  teaches is offered through a consortium of four law schools that, whatever the justification they may have once had for existing, have devolved into brazen diploma mills.  The four schools offer summer study programs that are essentially student-loan funded vacations for their students, who, if they were going to law schools worth attending, would be working for potential future long-term legal employers in the summer, rather than traipsing around Europe and adding to their enormous debt loads.



Graduates of these schools are currently graduating with an average of more than $150,000 in educational debt – almost all of it in the form of taxpayer-backed loans, a significant percentage of which will never be paid back.  They will never be paid back because, by my calculations, a total of 29 of the 1,282 people who graduated from these schools in 2011 acquired jobs that pay salaries that would make it possible for someone to actually service the average debt graduates of these schools are incurring.  (By contrast, nearly 20 percent of the schools’ graduates appeared to be completely unemployed, which suggests strongly that, for a large proportion of these people, their $150,000 taxpayer-funded degrees are worse than worthless.)

I don’t doubt that Chief Justice Roberts remains blissfully ignorant about the precise means by which several tens of thousands of dollars in what will prove to be unrecoverable student loan debt ends up getting funneled to him each summer.  And it is certainly a fair point that a non-trivial portion of my own salary is funded through similar channels. (We are all, as a famous philosopher once noted, part of the same hypocrisy.)

Still, to paraphrase another legal philosopher, ignorance of the loan is no excuse.

Paul Campos is a professor of law at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 22
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Talking Heads, 1977
    This was their first weekend as a foursome at CBGB’s, after adding Jerry Harrison, before they started recording the LP “Talking Heads: 77.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith, Bowery 1976
    Patti lit up by the Bowery streetlights. I tapped her on the shoulder, asked if I could do a picture, took two shots and everyone went back to what they were doing. 1/4 second at f/5.6 no tripod.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Blondie, 1977
    This was taken at the Punk Magazine Benefit show. According to Chris Stein (seated, on slide guitar), they were playing “Little Red Rooster.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    No Wave Punks, Bowery Summer 1978
    They were sitting just like this when I walked out of CBGB's. Me: “Don’t move” They didn’t. L to R: Harold Paris, Kristian Hoffman, Diego Cortez, Anya Phillips, Lydia Lunch, James Chance, Jim Sclavunos, Bradley Field, Liz Seidman.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell + Bob Quine, 1978
    Richard Hell and the Voidoids, playing CBGB's in 1978, with Richard’s peerless guitar player Robert Quine. Sorely missed, Quine died in 2004.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bathroom, 1977
    This photograph of mine was used to create the “replica” CBGB's bathroom in the Punk Couture show last summer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. So I got into the Met with a bathroom photo.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Stiv Bators + Divine, 1978
    Stiv Bators, Divine and the Dead Boys at the Blitz Benefit show for injured Dead Boys drummer Johnny Blitz.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977
    “The kids are all hopped up and ready to go…” View from the unique "side stage" at CBGB's that you had to walk past to get to the basement bathrooms.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Klaus Nomi, Christopher Parker, Jim Jarmusch – Bowery 1978
    Jarmusch was still in film school, Parker was starring in Jim’s first film "Permanent Vacation" and Klaus just appeared out of nowhere.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Hilly Kristal, Bowery 1977
    When I used to show people this picture of owner Hilly Kristal, they would ask me “Why did you photograph that guy? He’s not a punk!” Now they know why. None of these pictures would have existed without Hilly Kristal.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Dictators, Bowery 1976
    Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators with his girlfriend Jody. I took this shot as a thank you for him returning the wallet I’d lost the night before at CBGB's. He doesn’t like that I tell people he returned it with everything in it.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Alex Chilton, Bowery 1977
    We were on the median strip on the Bowery shooting what became a 45 single sleeve for Alex’s “Bangkok.” A drop of rain landed on the camera lens by accident. Definitely a lucky night!

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery view, 1977
    The view from across the Bowery in the summer of 1977.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977 – never before printed
    I loved shooting The Ramones. They would play two sets a night, four nights a week at CBGB's, and I’d be there for all of them. This shot is notable for Johnny playing a Strat, rather than his usual Mosrite. Maybe he’d just broken a string. Love that hair.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell, Bowery 1977 – never before printed
    Richard exiting CBGB's with his guitar at 4am, about to step into a Bowery rainstorm. I’ve always printed the shots of him in the rain, but this one is a real standout to me now.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith + Ronnie Spector, 1979
    May 24th – Bob Dylan Birthday show – Patti “invited” everyone at that night’s Palladium show on 14th Street down to CBGB's to celebrate Bob Dylan’s birthday. Here, Patti and Ronnie are doing “Be My Baby.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Legs McNeil, 1977
    Legs, ready for his close-up, near the front door of CBGB's.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Suicide, 1977
    Rev and Alan Vega – I thought Alan was going to hit me with that chain. This was the Punk Magazine Benefit show.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ian Hunter and Fans, outside bathroom
    I always think of “All the Young Dudes” when I look at this shot. These fans had caught Ian Hunter in the CBGB's basement outside the bathrooms, and I just stepped in to record the moment.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Tommy Ramone, 1977
    Only at CBGB's could I have gotten this shot of Tommy Ramone seen through Johnny Ramones legs.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery 4am, 1977
    End of the night garbage run. Time to go home.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>