Three Supreme Court justices sold up to $1.045 million in individual securities from their portfolios in 2016 while choosing to focus new investments in the types of funds that would not trigger recusals at the cert. or merits stage.
Chief Justice Roberts sold up to $500,000 in Microsoft, up to $250,000 in Time Warner Cable and up to $65,000 in two HP stocks while purchasing no new individual securities and nine retirement funds or bonds. Justice Breyer sold up to $100,000 in EMC and up to $50,000 in IBM while buying no new stocks and three new retirement funds or bonds. Justice Alito sold up to $50,000 in ITC Holdings and up to $15,000 each in Johnson Controls and Apache Corp. while only making one individual stock purchase, up to $50,000 in Fortis, and buying 13 new retirement funds or bonds.
In 2015, the three sold up to $1.475 million of their individual shares while only investing up to $95,000 into four companies. All told, Roberts, Breyer and Alito owned shares in 53 companies at the end of 2016, compared to 60 companies at the end of 2015 and 76 companies at the end of the 2014.
“I am encouraged by the justices’ continued stock sell-off and call on them to accelerate the practice, especially at a time when public servants’ integrity in Washington is at a premium,” FTC executive director Gabe Roth said.
Roth added: “While Justice Ginsburg’s comments last summer maligning one of the court’s forthcoming litigants (i.e., the President) were troublesome, there’s no law requiring her to step aside from any Trump-related case because of them. There is, however, a law stating that the justices must recuse when they have a financial conflict, and given their recurring lapses, there’s no reason that three of them should continue to own individual stocks.” (Three times in the last two Supreme Court terms a justice missed stock conflict that required recusal.)
Today marks the first time since the Ethics in Government Act went into effect in Oct. 1978 that the justices’ disclosures were distributed for free and via anything other than paper – in this case, thumb drives. Since its founding in Nov. 2014, FTC has urged the judiciary to digitize the reports.
Over the next few weeks, FTC will analyze the justices’ stock ownership to determine if any heard cases in which they owned shares in a company that filed an amicus brief. While this would not warrant a recusal, it does look suspicious and begs the question of why justices own individuals shares at all.
For example, while Roberts’ Microsoft sale on Jan. 5, 2016, allowed him to vote for cert. in Microsoft v. Baker later that month and hear the case in Mar. 2017, he was able to sit in cases like Samsung v. Apple in which companies whose shares he owned filed amicus briefs.
Justice Gorsuch’s financial disclosure report was not included on the thumb drive, and no reason was given.