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FTC Urges the Justices to Sell Shares in Mobile Tech Companies Before Considering Cell Tower Petitions

Cell towerWith the Supreme Court about to consider petitions in several third-party doctrine cases related to cell phone records, Fix the Court is urging the justices who own shares of publicly traded mobile technology firms to sell them before their May 11 conference.

As of Dec. 31, 2015, Chief Justice Roberts held up to $15,000 in Nokia stock; Justice Breyer owned up to $100,000 in EMC Corp. (now Dell EMC), one of the world’s largest cloud-computing providers, which may become involved in a cell data case; and Justice Alito – the only other justice to own shares in publicly traded companies – held numerous tech stocks and had an estate that included AT&T and Verizon securities, though his shares were distributed in March 2015.

It is plausible that, since the end of 2015, any one of these justices – or any of the six others – purchased shares in mobile technology firms, though the public won’t know for certain for months, if not years, since the justices are not covered by the law that requires public officials to disclose securities transactions within 45 days. The justices’ 2016 financial disclosure reports are scheduled to be released in late June or early July, and any transactions that have occurred since the beginning of this year won’t be released until mid-next year.

“The Supreme Court is famous for its neo-Luddism, both in terms of how the institution has ignored best practices in modern governance and how its justices often seem befuddled by basic technology,” Fix the Court executive director Gabe Roth said. “Nevertheless, the justices should be well aware of the conflict-of-interest laws on the books, and given the likelihood that publicly traded telecom companies will be litigants or amici in the cell tower cases, the justices should ensure they do not have a financial interest in their outcome.”

Fix the Court has urged the justices to divest from all of their individual securities or at the very least place those securities in a blind trust while they serve on the court.

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