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Supreme Court justices: Not just like us

Yesterday the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts released financial disclosure reports for eight of the nine justices of the Supreme Court. (The court’s newest justice, Neil Gorsuch, received an extension to submit his report.) As in years past, the forms issued yesterday reveal that, regardless of their ideological leanings, the justices – even those who come from humble beginnings – lead lives that are very different from those of the average American. Here are some examples:

    • They have side jobs teaching, sometimes in glamorous places. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito each listed three teaching gigs, netting them approximately $27,000 in additional income above their salaries of $251,800. Thomas taught at George Washington University Law School, the University of Georgia Law School and at Thomas Jefferson Law School’s program in Nice, France. Alito taught at St. John’s College Law School, Duke University Law School (from which his son graduated in 2012) and Tulane University Law School, which involved travel to both Paris and Berlin.
    • They were reimbursed for lots of other interesting travel. In addition to his teaching jobs, Thomas gave the commencement speech at Hillsdale College in Michigan and also traveled to Florida, Georgia and Texas. The Foundation for Self Government – whose board of directors includes Federalist Society executive vice president Leonard Leo – reimbursed Alito for a swing through Hong Kong and four cities (Shanghai, Shenzhen, Nanjing and Beijing) in mainland China. Justice Stephen Breyer traveled to Paris for the Nuit des Idées (which he helpfully translates as “Night of Ideas”) and also to Palm Beach, London, Sun Valley and Atlanta. The court’s oldest justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, hit cultural capitals Florence, Barcelona and Venice, while Justice Sonia Sotomayor visited Hawaii, New Mexico, Puerto Rico and Alaska.
    • They get presents. Alito received a “bronze cast of hand” valued at $3,000 from Bottega Mortet, an Italian sculpture studio whose website advertises an “Artisan Hand Project.” There is no way to know whether the cast was of Alito’s own hand.

  • They serve on boards. Alito is a member of the American Bar Association’s Advisory Committee on the Law Library of Congress and the Honorary Board of the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in the United States. Breyer serves as a juror for the Pritzker Architecture Prize, which included hardship travel to New York for a ceremony and dinner and to Spain and France for a “member fly-around.” Justice Anthony Kennedy serves on the board of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, while Sotomayor is a governing director of iCivics, a civics-education group founded by retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Thomas – who chronicled the poverty of his own childhood in his 2007 memoir – now serves on the board of Horatio Alger Foundation, an organization that, according to its website, was “established in 1947 to dispel the mounting belief among our nation’s youth that the American Dream was no longer attainable.” Chief Justice John Roberts did not list any board memberships but also serves as chancellor of the Smithsonian Institution as part of his official duties.
  • They have very few debts. Last year the average U.S. household had debts totaling over $132,000. But seven of the eight justices – Alito, Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan, Kennedy, Roberts and Thomas – reported that they had no liabilities at all, while the eighth – Sotomayor – listed only one liability, a mortgage on a rental property in New York.
  • But they have a lot of investments. Alito listed well over 100 investments and trusts, including mutual funds, municipal bonds and stocks. The forms provide only a range for the justices’ investments, but Breyer’s appear to total over $5 million. Roberts holds stocks in major companies such as Time Warner, Texas Instruments and SiriusXM, although he sold at least $250,000 in Microsoft stock at the beginning of January 2016. Roberts also reported at least $600,000 in bank accounts and over $600,000 in college savings plans.
  • They own a lot of real estate. Breyer owns a house in Nevis in the West Indies – presumably the same one where he was robbed by a man with a machete in 2012 – valued at between $250,000 and $500,000. (Breyer reported only limited rental income, of $1000 or less, for the house for the year.) Breyer sold land in Concord, Mass., for at least $500,000 to Neil and Anna Rasmussen, who run a Massachusetts foundation that promotes historic preservation and natural resources conservation, but he continues to own property in Plainfield, N.H., valued at between $250,000 and $500,000. Roberts owns one-eighth of a cottage in Limerick, Ireland, valued at between $15,000 and $50,000, while Sotomayor’s rental property in New York is valued at between $1 and $5 million.
  • They receive book royalties. Prolific author Breyer received $44,000 in royalties last year, but that paled in comparison with the over $200,000 that Ginsburg received for her book “My Own Words,” a compilation of her writings and speeches.

Recommended Citation: Amy Howe, Supreme Court justices: Not just like us, SCOTUSblog (Jun. 9, 2017, 1:16 PM),