Yesterday afternoon, the Supreme Court released the justices’ financial disclosures, an annual tradition and one of the very, very few ethical constraints upon the Supreme Court. With all the caterwauling from John Roberts or Harlan Crow’s attorneys about separation of powers, this is a disclosure mandated by legislative act that the Court has dutifully complied with for nearly half a century. And “lo, the judiciary did not crumble under this interbranch obligation!”
Seriously, was there a WORSE day for the Court to remind everyone that Congress can absolutely pass ethical laws governing the judiciary than right on the heels of Gibson Dunn writing a comical, dubiously researched letter doubling down on the claim that there’s no legislative purpose for inquiring about a justice’s finances? Just brutal timing.
This year’s release (current and former releases available here) arrives at a critical time for the Supreme Court, as the embattled institution struggles to demonstrate even the vaguest commitment to judicial ethics, with cascading ethical scandals directly and indirectly implicating Clarence Thomas dropping faster than shadow docket abuses. (Psst… read Steve Vladeck’s book on this (affiliate link).)
And so seven of the nine justices released their financial disclosures… except Alito and Thomas. Because when all eyes are on a history of failing to comply with financial disclosure rules, the last thing Thomas wants to do is add another form to the pile! Meanwhile, we’re only a little over a week removed from Alito demonstrating his unwillingness to shine a light on his finances, when he breached the mildest of recent Court-imposed ethical edicts by recusing himself without comment, apparently to avoid disclosing the nature of his financial interest in the matter.
Inevitably, the holdout justices will issue their disclosures timed with some event that can suitably bury the reports under other news. Anyone want to take bets on Trump Indictment Day?
But let’s dig into what the remaining justices DID disclose. Fix the Court did the hard work of digging into the forms. Here are some highlights.
TRAVEL IS UP
The seven justices reported 20 free or reimbursed trips in 2022. Both Justices Kavanaugh and Barrett (and Alito) went to Rome for conferences, Justice Gorsuch traveled to Padua to teach, and Justice Sotomayor participated in a conference in Edinburgh. In comparison, last year at this time the justices, minus Thomas and Alito, only reported eight free trips taken. FTC has compiled a list of the justices’ 2022 events and appearances and will compare this with the reimbursements list at a later date.
This isn’t entirely shocking given that 2022 became the unofficial post-COVID reopening. While certain justices thought COVID was no big deal and the response to it “the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in the peacetime history of this country” — which might be true if he added “for white people” — the rest of us took last year as the first opportunity to safely schedule events.
I WANT TO SEE THESE FLOWERS
The only justice to report a gift was Justice Jackson, who received three above the $415 reporting threshold: a John Steele painting (valued at $580), flowers from Oprah ($1,200) and a dress and jacket for her Vogue photoshoot ($6,580). It’s unknown how many gifts valued under $415 the justices received this year, but in years past they’ve gotten silver julep cups, personalized baseball bats and an engraving they didn’t have to report, thanks to the high threshold in the disclosure law (next year, it goes up to $480).
What would $1,200 worth of flowers look like outside of a wedding?
THE GREAT KAGAN MYSTERY SOLVED!!!
Folks have wondered in the past how Justice Kagan can possibly have a rental property in Washington D.C. that’s only valued between “$1,001-$2,500.” This year she cleared up all confusion, noting that it’s a… parking space.
And it’s now worth “$2501-$5,000.” Inflation, man.
ROBERTS (AND PROBABLY ALITO) STILL PLAYING THE MARKET
Chief Justice Roberts sold all his shares in two of four stock holdings in 2022, shedding his Texas Instrument stock (valued between $251,000 and $500,000) and his Charter Communications stock (~$100,001-$250,000). Roberts in 2022 kept his Lam Research shares (~$100,001-$250,000) and his Thermo Fisher Scientific shares (~$500,001-$1,000,000), and he filed a transaction report in the judiciary’s online database — a requirement of the bipartisan Courthouse Ethics and Transparency Act that President Biden signed last May, once again showing that Congress can pass judicial ethics laws that the justices will follow.
Though it’s unclear if Justice Alito still owns shares in a whopping 28 companies as he did in 2021, the justice did recuse from 20 petitions in 2022 due to his stock ownership. None of the other seven justices own individual stocks.
Other justices own mutual funds. There’s ongoing disagreement about just how much a fund requires recusal, but those angels on the head of a growth fund debates are a lot better than owning $200K in an oil company.
READ THE SYLLABUS
Though per federal law and regulations there is no limit to a justice’s book earnings or rental income, there is one for outside teaching, which in 2022 was $30,555. Justice Gorsuch earned $28,891.71 for teaching for two weeks in Padua, Italy, for George Mason’s National Security Institute. Elsewhere, Justice Kavanaugh made $29,894.96 for teaching at George Mason’s Antonin Scalia Law School, and Justice Barrett made $29,447.50 for teaching at Notre Dame.
The justices shouldn’t be teaching. The classes aren’t crafting bright new lawyers, they’re cheap ploys for a law school to trumpet in promotional material and maybe sneak a student into a clerkship. The justices shouldn’t be able to get ANY money from teaching and then we’ll see how committed they are to education.
Anyway, it’s time to start digging into today’s opinions. Stay tuned for the remaining disclosures.
Earlier: Harlan Crow’s Lawyers Tell Senate They’re Going To Take Their Chances With Contempt
Harlan Crow’s Lawyers Double Down On Genius Strategy To Invite Contempt Charges
John Roberts Gaslights Crowd With ‘Commitment’ To Super Secret Supreme Court Ethics Plan He Won’t Talk About
Joe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.