View the justices’ disclosures — and see who earned royalties, who taught for cash and who raked in rents — here
The Supreme Court’s 2021 financial disclosures show the justices taking advantage of the major exemptions to federal prohibitions against outside income — book royalties and advances, teaching income and rental income — while some of what they’ve reported today has ethical implications for a Court already under the public microscope.
Book earnings continue to be a leading story here. Justice Barrett in 2021 signed a deal, reportedly for a book on how judges can remain neutral on the job, with a $2 million advance, $425,000 of which was paid out to her last year. Justice Gorsuch raked in $250,000 for what appears to be a yet-to-be-written book, pushing his book income total over $900,000. Justice Sotomayor, who has earned close to $3.4 million in advances and royalties since joining the Court, earned $115,593 last year for two kids books, plus another $5,125 for optioning one of them to a TV production company.
Though per federal law and regulations there is no limit to a justice’s book earnings, there is one for outside teaching, which in 2021 amounted to $29,895. Justice Thomas came closest to that, $29,595, for teaching at the law schools of George Washington and Notre Dame. Also of note, though Justice Gorsuch earned $26,541 for teaching for two weeks in Iceland for George Mason, Justice Kagan was with him for one of those weeks and took no salary. Elsewhere, Justice Kavanaugh made $25,541 for teaching at George Mason, and Barrett made $14,280 for teaching at Notre Dame.
Though FTC is generally unbothered by book deals — why not cash in when you can? — the data on teaching underscores a disturbing pattern.
“It’s bad enough that the justices predominantly speak to interest groups that serve their perceived teams, with conservative justices appearing at Fed Soc events and the liberals at the American Constitution Society with almost no crossover. But to make matters worse, all three Trump-appointed justices are teaching at their teams’ law schools, namely hard-right George Mason and Notre Dame, which is not a great look from a supposedly apolitical institution,” FTC’s Gabe Roth said.
Chief Justice Roberts, who has long vacationed in coastal Maine, now supplements his $280,500 annual salary by renting out his vacation home there. Justices Thomas, Sotomayor and Kagan, who as associate justices each made $268,300 in 2021, also rented out their secondary residences last year.
Ethics meets disclosures
Given the recent ethical scandals surrounding Justice Thomas and his wife Ginni, it is interesting to note that for 2021 Thomas listed the value of Ginni’s Liberty Consulting as up to $15,000, down from the 2020 value of up to $50,000 and down further from 2019, when Liberty was listed as valued at up to $250,000, which was just after she received two six-figure contracts, in 2017 and 2018, from a conservative group, as reported in the New Yorker. It is unclear why the value has decreased thus.
As expected, Thomas also listed on his report his honorary position on the Horatio Alger Association Board of Directors. Thomas hosted the Association at the Court in April 2022 and posed with Senate candidate and Society honoree Herschel Walker, which was controversial given the proximity (seven weeks) to Walker’s primary election.
You may recall Justice Barrett’s Sept. 2021 trip to Louisville where she spoke at the McConnell Center and, standing next to the Minority Leader, said the Court was “not comprised of a bunch of partisan hacks.” That trip appeared on her report as expected, though it’s a bit ridiculous it took nine months to confirm the flight and hotel were free to her. By way of a public records request, FTC learned that fact in Oct. 2021 — and that Barrett’s talk was preceded by a private dinner, comprising McConnell, the school president and about a dozen “guests/friends of Senator McConnell.”
What the public doesn’t see in Barrett’s report is the cost of her flight, hotel and meal, nor will they learn the cost of similar perks enjoyed by the other justices over the past year. But that could change. A bill passed by House Judiciary last month, which has a Senate companion, would require the Court to “establish rules governing the disclosure of all gifts [and] reimbursements” that mirror disclosure rules in the House and Senate, which require dollar amounts for these perks. Though these bills are Democrats-only, Republicans in the House and Senate have supported dollar-amount disclosures in the past.
Speaking of Congress
This is the last year in which the justices’ disclosures will be released as thumb drives and not online. Thanks to the bipartisan Courthouse Ethics and Transparency Act, signed by President Biden last month, the Court will be required in future years to post the justices’ disclosures online. The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts will be required to post lower court judges’ 2022 disclosures online, as well, by mid-August next year.
Per that law, by the end of this summer justices and lower court judges will be required to file reports within 45 days of a stock transaction greater than $1,000, as members of Congress have done for a decade.
Sticking with Stocks
Today’s disclosures show that at least two justices still own individual stocks: Chief Justice Roberts holds shares in four companies and Justice Breyer in eight. Justice Alito, who we estimate hold shares in two dozen companies, has yet to submit his 2021 disclosure report.
FTC has long believed that top federal officials, including in the judiciary, should not own individual stocks. Sadly, we can report on only three SCOTUS stock divestments in the last year: Roberts’ donation of his Sirius XM shares (for reasons unknown); Breyer’s sale of Paccar (also for unknown reasons); and Alito’s sale of his Boeing shares.
The latter occurred so that Alito could participate in a 20-794, Servotronics v. Rolls-Royce PLC and Boeing, a case granted cert. in Mar. 2021 but dismissed in Sept. 2021. Curiously, Alito didn’t sell his ConocoPhillips and Phillips 66 shares, so he had to sit out BP PLC, et al., v. City of Baltimore, argued in Jan. 2021, where the oil companies were among the “al.”
Odds and Ends
Though Justices Roberts, Thomas, Breyer and Kavanaugh included the name of their wives’ employers on their reports, Justice Barrett had the name of her husband’s employer, SouthBank Legal, blacked out, which is especially odd given that Jesse Barrett’s bio page exists. Justices may request redactions, which generally get approved, for “sensitive information,” though that phrase is a bit malleable.
FTC is still waiting for Justice Sotomayor to update her 2016 disclosure, in which she left out a trip to Rhode Island comprising a $1,000 flight and up to 11 rooms at one of the state’s most expensive hotels on URI’s dime, not to mention a motorcade from the airport and the university’s purchase of more than 100 copies of her autobiography.
Earlier this year, thanks to FTC’s research and persistence, Justice Thomas updated his 2017 and 2018 disclosures by adding reimbursed trips he had initially left out.