Books, teaching and rent lucrative for some, meager for others; justices’ reimbursed travel falls off 86% due to COVID
All eight of the Supreme Court justices whose 2020 financial disclosures were released today supplemented their salaries last year with book payouts, teaching income or rent collection.
Justice Sotomayor made the most, nearly matching her $265,600 in judicial earnings last year with a $212,181.72 payday from Penguin Random House; about two-thirds of that was royalties for Turning Pages and Just Ask and a third was an advance. She also netted up to $15,000 in rent from her Manhattan apartment.
Justice Gorsuch made $100,623.93 in royalties — $100,000 for A Republic, If You Can Keep It and the rest for his euthanasia book — while Justice Breyer earned a meager $1,132.61 for his extracurricular writing. Justice Barrett’s reported $2 million book advance is not listed on her 2020 disclosure, meaning the deal was likely closed this calendar year.
“Though the Supreme Court disclosures have greatly improved in the last few years, moving from paper only, to digital TIFF files to searchable PDFs, it’s embarrassing they’re not simply uploaded to the Internet like congressional and executive branch disclosures are each year,” FTC’s Gabe Roth said. “Thankfully, this oversight has grabbed the attention of Democrats and Republicans in Congress of late, and I’m confident that legislation requiring online disclosures for the entire third branch will be advanced later this year.”
In spite of the pandemic, three justices taught for extra cash. Justice Thomas earned $10,000 teaching at GW Law School in August; Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh each made $25,000.08 at George Mason University. Then-Judge Barrett’s $28,000 in earnings from Notre Dame Law is believed to have occurred pre-pandemic, and Justice Kagan’s annual Harvard Law class was canceled.
One item not completely clear at press time was the up to $100,000 in rent Justice Thomas made for what looks to be a Texas-based property, called “Ginger, Ltd.” In 2019, that rent netted Thomas only up to $15,000.
Elsewhere, as he did in 2019, Breyer last year made up to $50,000 for renting out his place in the West Indies. Chief Justice Roberts (who as Chief earned $277,700 in 2020) made less than $1,000 in rent for his share of a cottage in County Limerick Ireland, and Justice Kagan made only up to $2,500 for renting out her Washington, D.C., property. In addition, 2020 was the first year since Justice Barrett became a federal judge that she didn’t rent out part of her Indiana home, which she and her husband sold earlier this year.
Justice Alito’s disclosure was not included in today’s release from the U.S. Courts, and those seeking to tabulate justices’ net worth are reminded that the nine are permitted to leave their Thrift Savings Plans and other government-based retirement accounts off their reports.
Justice Barrett through 2020 maintained a “Knights of Columbus Whole Life Insurance Policy” valued at up to $15,000. This policy first appeared on her 2019 disclosure report, dated July 30, 2020, and is of interest given the organization’s frequent appearance as amicus in abortion cases. (Its last amicus was in Little Sisters v. Pa., decided three months before Barrett joined SCOTUS.)
Chief Justice Roberts’ mother-in-law died in Sept. 2020, but earlier in the year, likely January or February, Roberts inherited a seven-figure trust comprising more than 60 securities, 48 of which were common stock in mostly blue chip companies. Roberts sold all 60 securities by the end of February.
Though Justice Thomas listed the value of Ginny Thomas’ Liberty Consulting as between $100,001 and $250,000 in 2019, he only valued it between $15,001 and $50,000 in 2020.
The only time the Federalist Society was mentioned is a single Feb. 2020 Justice Gorsuch trip to Colorado, and there was no mention of ACS.
Travel falls off due to COVID:
As expected, the reimbursed travel for Justices Roberts, Thomas, Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh dropped precipitously in 2020 — 86% (eight reimbursed trips) vs. 2019 (56 trips), as COVID mostly kept them sidelined in their D.C., Virginia, Maryland, New York and Massachusetts homes.
Interestingly, Gorsuch’s disclosure shows that he flew home from Florida on March 12, the day after “the day everything changed,” and his, Kavanaugh’s, and Thomas’ teaching seem to have all taken place during COVID and in person.
Even so, most justices did opt to use video conferencing for public appearances, including graduations (Roberts at GLC), civic events (Breyer at NCC and Sotomayor and Gorsuch at CSIS), interest group events (Alito at FedSoc) or to receive an award (Kagan at NYU Law). None has appeared in person at a truly public event, save for Justice Ginsburg’s memorial, since the start of the pandemic.
Though the estates of judges and justices who’ve passed away during the reporting year are not required to submit a disclosure on behalf of the deceased, we do know from SCOTUSMap that Justice Ginsburg held eight public events before the pandemic started, seven in D.C. and one in New York. Gifts she received include a bust of LBJ, a small winged statue and, from Diane von Fürstenberg, a heart-shaped sculpture. No other justices reported gifts, save a $10,000 honorarium for Justice Sotomayor from the Thomas Jefferson Foundation that — as per custom, since the justices aren’t technically bound by the judicial gift rules — she turned around and donated to a charity.
Finally, FTC still awaits updated disclosures from Justices Thomas and Sotomayor. Last year, we found via open records requests to public universities that Thomas left a trip to Kansas off his 2018 report, and Sotomayor left off a trip to Rhode Island off her 2016. The Court’s PIO said the justices would fix these errors, yet there’s no evidence that that’s happened.
Though FTC is pleased to have received the justices’ disclosures only a few weeks after they were due to the Committee on Financial Disclosure, we are disappointed that the AO has yet to release the rest of the federal judiciary’s 2019 and 2020 reports.