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Less travel, plenty of royalties for justices in 2020

official portrait of nine justices wearing black judicial robes. five justices sit in chairs while four justices stand behind them.

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic were reflected in an unusual source: the justices’ 2020 financial disclosures, which the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts released (and Fix the Court posted online) on Friday. Unlike in previous years, the justices mostly stayed close to home, with only two justices reporting reimbursements for trips after the pandemic hit in mid-March.

The financial disclosures, which are released every year around this time, are relatively opaque. For example, they indicate the value of investments only in a wide range, and they do not include the value of the justices’ homes. However, the disclosures also shed light on the groups to whom the justices speak, their work outside the court and even the gifts that they receive.

Eight of the nine justices’ disclosures were released Friday. Justice Samuel Alito’s disclosure report was not included.

Two justices – Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Sonia Sotomayor – did not report any travel for which they were reimbursed. Four of their colleagues traveled only before the pandemic took hold. Justice Clarence Thomas traveled to Florida to speak at the University of Florida and to the Florida chapter of the conservative legal group the Federalist Society. Justice Stephen Breyer traveled to New York City in January 2020 in connection with his work as a juror for the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize, while Justice Elena Kagan also went to New York in late January to speak to the state’s bar association. Unlike her colleagues, two of the trips reported by the court’s newest justice, Amy Coney Barrett, involved travel to Washington, D.C., while she was serving as a federal appeals court judge in Indiana: Barrett came to Washington in January to judge a moot court competition at George Washington University and returned in February to serve as a judge for the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s mock trial of Peter Pan.

Justice Neil Gorsuch squeezed in two trips before the pandemic hit – first to his home state of Colorado in February for the Federalist Society and then in mid-March to speak at the Ave Maria Law School in Naples, Florida. Gorsuch also reported being reimbursed for a 12-day stay in Williamsburg, Virginia, in June for the George Mason University National Security Institute. Gorsuch reported $25,000.08 in income as an adjunct professor at George Mason.

And in connection with his work as a visiting professor at George Mason’s Antonin Scalia Law School (for which he too received $25,000.08), Justice Brett Kavanaugh indicated that he taught a two-credit class on the Supreme Court from Aug. 8 to Aug. 15. He reported being reimbursed by the law school for lodging and meals at an unspecified location in Farmington, Pennsylvania, during that time. Farmington is home to the luxury Nemacolin Resort and the Historic Summit Inn, an upscale mountaintop hotel.  

Sotomayor and Gorsuch reported healthy outside income from book advances and royalties. Sotomayor has several books under her belt, including her 2013 memoir My Beloved World and books for middle schoolers and younger children, that last year yielded her $212,181 in advances and royalties – just short of her salary of $265,600. Gorsuch reported $623.92 in royalties from Princeton University Press, presumably from his 2009 book on assisted suicide and euthanasia, as well as $100,000 in royalties from Penguin Random House for his recent book, A Republic, If You Can Keep It.

Several justices reported outside income from real estate. Breyer owns a vacation home in the Caribbean (where he was robbed by a man wielding a machete in 2012) that yielded him somewhere between $15,001 and $50,000 in rental income, while Sotomayor reported $5,001 to $15,000 in rental income from her New York apartment. Roberts and Kagan had less lucrative real estate holdings: Roberts reported income from a share of a cottage in County Limerick, Ireland, that was $1,000 or less, while Kagan reported between $1,001 and $2,500 in income from a rental property in Washington.

Beyond their teaching positions, the justices held a variety of non-judicial positions. In addition to his role as a Pritzker juror, Breyer also served as an honorary trustee for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, where his wife, Joanna, worked as a psychologist. Gorsuch (along with Justice Anthony Kennedy, who retired in 2018) served on the board of trustees for Colonial Williamsburg and as the honorary chair of the National Constitution Center. And Kavanaugh continued his commitment to youth sports, serving as the coach of a youth basketball team and as an adviser to a Catholic Youth Organization Sports Advisory Board. 

Earlier this year, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called on the justices to disclose more information about the gifts and outside income that they receive. Although 2020 was a relatively quiet year for travel and gifts for the justices, those calls are likely to continue as the justices – who are all now fully vaccinated – return to normal activities in 2021. 

This article was originally published at Howe on the Court.

Recommended Citation: Amy Howe, Less travel, plenty of royalties for justices in 2020, SCOTUSblog (Jun. 11, 2021, 5:33 PM),