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Supreme Court justices head for enviable destinations on summer recess

WASHINGTON — The pay isn’t the best, but, oh, the travel opportunities that come with being a Supreme Court justice.

Geneva, Rome, Lake Tahoe — and that’s only Justice Antonin Scalia’s summer itinerary.

The justices often take full advantage of their lengthy summer break to travel abroad, and earn money for it, too. Justices can accept roughly $25,000 in additional income for teaching and speaking, beyond their salary of $213,900 a year. The chief justice earns about $10,000 a year more.

Chief Justice John Roberts is going to Florence, Italy; Justice Anthony Kennedy is headed to Salzburg, Austria; and Justice Samuel Alito will spend time in Rome. Each is taking part in an American law school’s summer-abroad program.

Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan are headed to the Aspen Institute in Colorado. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg also may visit Aspen.

Breyer’s summer includes visits to Toronto for the American Bar Association convention; to Vermont — billed by the Calvin Coolidge Center as his first public appearance in the state since he joined the Supreme Court in 1994; and to Fargo, N.D., to dedicate a high school. He’s also scheduled to preside at the wedding of former Rep. Patrick Kennedy at the Kennedy family compound in Hyannis, Mass., in mid-July. Breyer once worked for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Patrick’s late father.

Travel plans for Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Clarence Thomas weren’t available, although Thomas typically takes to the road in his RV.

Work to do

Before summer fun can start, the justices have some work to do. After handing down four opinions Monday, 19 cases argued this term remain undecided.

It’s likely they all will be resolved by the end of June.

The oldest of those is the constitutional challenge to California’s restrictions on the sale or rental of violent video games to children. That case was argued more than seven months ago.

The court never says when a particular decision is forthcoming or why it might be delayed. Often the opinions themselves will hint at the disagreements and revisions that went on beyond the public’s gaze.

The cases argued in April often are the last ones decided. But this year, the justices already have turned out five unanimous or nearly unanimous opinions from April.

In two other cases argued that month, the justices did not appear closely divided either about their skepticism of a Vermont law limiting data mining of prescription drug information or a lawsuit by a half-dozen states seeking to force cuts in carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, even as the Environmental Protection Agency is considering doing the same by regulation.

The other major outstanding case is the effort to block a huge class-action lawsuit claiming Wal-Mart engages in sex discrimination in pay and promotions.

The court meets Thursday to issue more opinions.

Closer to home

It’s beginning to look the way it used to at the Supreme Court, before a massive renovation project that has taken several years longer than planned, yet somehow stayed within its $122 million budget.

Work on the interior of the 76-year-old building is essentially complete. Visitors no longer ascend the marble steps beneath the words “Equal Justice Under Law,” but instead enter the building through a new screening center.

The ventilation systems were brought up to date, although the heating system in some locations appears to have a mind of its own. Temporary trailers for court employees are gone and the construction fence on the south side of the building, between the court and the Library of Congress, has been torn down.

Landscaping and other work on the north side of the court are scheduled for completion in 2013, 10 years after the project began.

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