All nine justices step aside, or “recuse,” from cases and petitions from time to time due to conflicts of interest. (Here’s the list from the current term.) Many of these are not preventable; for example, Justice Alito steps aside when his sister and or his son, both accomplished attorneys, is involved in a high court case, and Justice Breyer did the same when his federal judge brother was involved.
We’ve long advocated for the justices to publicize their reasons for recusal as a way to be more transparent about their work. It appears that a May 2023 policy change means at least a few of them will start to do it. But even so, we’ll continue to publish periodic reports where we offer more detailed explanations.
There are other conflicts that can and should actively be minimized by the justices, such as ownership of stocks in individual companies. After all, when a justice steps aside from a case due to any conflict, there’s the potential for a 4-4 tie, which means everyone’s time is wasted.
We believe there’s no reason for the justices to own common stock in companies that may easily find themselves before the Court. (Here’s what they owned as of Dec. 2022.) To fix this, the justices should be required to either sell their individual stocks or only hold bonds, mutual funds and index funds, which would give the justices the ability to keep a foothold in the market through a wide variety of instruments.
Thanks to a 2022 law Fix the Court advocated for, the justices now must post reports on their stock sales and purchases online, along with their annual financial disclosure reports.
This keeps happening, and there are several solutions (e.g., sell your stocks, update your recusal lists, publish the reasons behind your recusals, etc.) that will help make it stop.