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How Many Years Back Should Judges and Justices Go to Amend Their Disclosures?

FTC’s Gabe Roth wrote the following letter to the chairpeople of the Judicial Conference’s Codes of Conduct Committee and the Financial Disclosure Committee:

Dear Judges Elrod and Bunning:

Given the rising public interest in judges’ and justices’ financial disclosure reports, I’m wondering if the Codes of Conduct Committee or the Financial Disclosure Committee has weighed in on how many years judicial officers should go back to amend disclosures when past errors have been brought to light.

Federal law, 5 U.S.C. §13107(d)(2)(B), permits the destruction of judges’ and justices’ disclosures after six years. Yet the law was written before the widespread use of the Internet, and groups like mine and Free Law Project digitize old disclosures to live online in perpetuity.

As such, I’d assume that judges and justices would want, or should want, to correct the record when an error from more than six years ago is uncovered. To offer two examples, Justice Thomas in his 2000 disclosure noted he received a private plane travel and free accommodations to give a speech at the “Culver Stockton College of Law,” yet Culver Stockton College appears never to have had a law school, and then-Judge Jackson in her 2022 nominee disclosure noted multiple errors from disclosures filed more than six years prior, including omissions of spousal income, teaching income from GW and a free trip to Berkeley Law.

Fixes such as these would be fairly simple to make, and by doing so, our judicial officers, who are merely human and make periodic errors, would be showing the public that they take their disclosure responsibilities with the utmost seriousness.

If your Committees have not opined on this topic, I hope you consider doing so in an advisory opinion or in future disclosure instructions.

Gabe Roth
Executive Director
Fix the Court

After the letter was sent, FTC submitted requests to the AO for all nine justices’ disclosure amendments for the last 10 years. We’ll let you know, via a new FTC post, when we receive them.

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