Supreme Transparency

About the Project

March 12, 2024

The current U.S. Supreme Court has gone rogue. The right-wing justices that make up the court’s supermajority frequently toy with precedent and the rule of law to issue opinions that not only defy the will of a majority of Americans, but also rewrite constitutional principles, overturn widely respected legal precedents, and gut long-standing rules that protect the public interest. In just the 2021 and 2022 Supreme Court terms alone, the Court overturned Roe v. Wade after 49 years; gutted both the decades-old Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act; overturned a 100+ year old gun safety law; eroded the National Labor Relations Act (adopted as part of New Deal reforms to protect workers); broke with their own procedures regarding standing to sue in order to block student debt relief; and reversed decades of precedent to end the decades-long practice of race-conscious college admissions policies that promoted diversity and redressed discrimination.  But this radically reactionary court and its radically reactionary justices aren’t acting alone. 

Over the past year, bombshell investigations by ProPublica, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Politico, and other outlets have revealed that some of the judges on the Court are accepting undisclosed, lucrative gifts and luxury trips from powerful right-wing mega-donors — in apparent violation of federal law and the ethical obligation of judges to avoid conflicts of interest and the appearance of impropriety. These news stories typically detail the relationship between a justice and their powerful “friends” — whom we call “powerbrokers.” But the ethics problems plaguing the Supreme Court don’t end with the powerbrokers themselves.

Supreme Transparency shines a spotlight on the complex web connecting justices to powerbrokers and the organizations that those powerbrokers fund, lead, and are otherwise linked to. Because these affiliated organizations frequently file amicus briefs before the Supreme Court, we sought out to document these connections to illustrate one potential mechanism for exerting influence: amicus briefs filed with the Court by organizations funded, led, or otherwise significantly connected to a powerbroker with close ties to a Supreme Court justice.

What we found was staggering. So far in the 2023-2024 Supreme Court term, nearly 1 in 7 of all amicus briefs was filed by at least one powerbroker-affiliated organization, affecting 32 cases.1
In Moore v. U.S. — a case through which the Supreme Court may preemptively block wealth taxes — half of amicus briefs supporting the petitioners, who are seeking to preemptively block wealth taxes, were filed by powerbroker-affiliated organization. In cases threatening the funding structures of the SEC and CFPB, 41% and 35% of briefs, respectively, that supported the parties assaulting these agencies’ ability to protect the public interest from corrupt or predatory practices were filed by powerbroker-affiliated organization. More than one-third of briefs siding with the party seeking to overturn Chevron precedent were filed by powerbroker-affiliated organization in Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo.

Despite the close ties between amicus filers and powerbrokers, conflicted Supreme Court justices have not recused themselves in any of the cases assessed by this project as of February 2024. 

The health of our democracy depends on America having a Supreme Court whose impartiality and ethical duties are clear, transparent, and enforced. The record shows we do not have such a court right now, and this crisis in our constitutional system requires redress. 

Take Back the Court Foundation informs the public about the threat the Supreme Court poses to democracy and is dedicated to reforming and rebalancing the Supreme Court. Revolving Door Project scrutinizes government officials to ensure they use their office to serve the broad public interest, rather than to entrench corporate power or seek personal advancement. True North Research is a watchdog that investigates groups whose regressive agendas threaten the freedoms and institutions vital to a just and thriving democracy in America.

  1. We studied cases in which all merits amicus briefs were filed before February 2, 2024. We will update the site periodically as more briefs are filed. ↩︎