The opinions released by the Supreme Court this morning were not super-exciting. The good news, pointed out by Professor Rick Hasen on Twitter, is that “[t]here are no likely boring #SCOTUS opinions left.” (But see Fifth Third Bancorp v. Dudenhoeffer, noted by Ken Jost.)
So let’s talk about something more interesting than today’s SCOTUS opinions: namely, the justices’ recently released financial disclosures. Which justices are taking home the most in outside income? How robust are their investments?
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, here are some big-picture points:
- Investments can be important for deciding which justices recuse in which cases. For analysis of some possibly investment-driven recusals, see this article by Tony Mauro.
- Are gifts to the justices drying up? Mauro notes: “Justices are required to report gifts they receive that are valued at $350 or more. In past years, they would list gifts ranging from shirts to rare books. But in 2013, according to the forms, none of the justices received gifts worth reporting.”
- As pointed out by Adam Liptak, the justices got a pay raise last year: Chief Justice Roberts now earns $255,500 a year, up from $223,500, and the associate justices now earn $244,400 each, up from $213,900.
Now, on to the financial disclosures. We’ll do a justice-by-justice rundown, in order of seniority. Click on each justice’s name to be taken to their 2013 financial disclosure (helpfully posted online by the Center for Public Integrity).
Two caveats, which we’ve noted in the past: (1) justices aren’t required to report exact values for assets, just ranges (e.g., $1,001,000 to $5,000,000), and (2) they don’t have to list their Lawyerly Lairs, i.e., their primary residences. So if you were to try and calculate net worths based on these forms, you’d end up with estimates that would be both rough and conservative.
Also, note that these disclosures cover the reporting period from January 1 to December 31, 2013. The justices’ fortunes might have changed since then.
Chief Justice Roberts earned $20,000 from teaching for the New England School of Law (an institution known for paying its people well). NESL also covered JGR’s air transportation, meals, and lodging for his trip to Prague, site of his course on “The U.S. Supreme Court – Historical Perspective.” The Chief’s disclosure form notes that his wife, superstar legal recruiter Jane Sullivan Roberts, earned compensation from Major Lindsey & Africa, but does not reveal the amount (which the justices aren’t required to reveal).
The Chief owns a nicely diversified mix of investments — stocks, mutual funds, even a little real estate (a one-eighth interest in a cottage in Limerick, Ireland). But is he nervous about the stock market? He has a large amount of cash, between $1 million and $5 million, parked in a bank account with Capital One. That account produced less than $1,000 in interest in 2013 — why such a small amount? Yes, interest rates are low, but they’re not that low. Perhaps a lot of money flowed into the account right near the end of the year (e.g., if Jane Sullivan Roberts got a big payout from Major Lindsey near year-end).
Justice Scalia supplemented his salary as an associate justice with another six figures in teaching fees and book royalties. He earned a total of more than $25,000 from five different schools and pulled in $76,913 in book royalties from West Publishing aka Thomson Reuters, publisher of Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts and Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges (affiliate links), both co-authored with legal writing guru and lexicographer Bryan A. Garner.
The justice, known for preaching the gospel of originalism at every opportunity, received reimbursement for expenses for 28 trips, more than any other justice, to destinations including Italy, Germany, and Peru. Not all of these talks were before right-of-center groups like the Federalist Society; he spoke to such left-leaning groups as the American College of Trial Lawyers and the Association of American Law Schools, and he even did an event for prominent plaintiffs’ lawyer Mark Lanier.
His biggest investments: an annuity worth between $250,001 and $500,000, a trust worth between $250,001 and $500,000, and another trust worth between $500,001 and $1 million. So that’s a cool million right there, assuming they sit at the very bottom of the ranges. His most interesting investment: a rental property in Charlottesville, Virginia, perhaps dating back to his days on the UVA Law faculty. If Justice Scalia is your landlord, make sure that your lease contains as little ambiguity as possible.
Justice Kennedy earned a little more than $20,000 from teaching in 2013. The powerful swing justice continues to be one of the poorest members of the Court, listing just four investment assets worth, at most, around $700,000. But at least he enjoys liquidity, with between $250,001 and $500,000 in cash in his PNC Bank account.
Justice Thomas might not ask many (or any) questions from the bench, but he does speak publicly — and powerfully. And sometimes he gets paid for it. In 2013, six schools paid him for teaching — and although he donated some of the money to charity, he still took home almost $27,000 in additional income. His wife, noted conservative activist Virginia Lamp Thomas, earned income in 2013 from the Daily Caller and Liberty Consulting. (It’s good that CT listed this income; he has erroneously omitted it in the past.)
She might not have matched her pal on the Court, Justice Scalia, but Justice Ginsburg did her fair share of traveling in 2013. She got reimbursed for a total of 14 different trips, including ones to Paris and the Hague. Not that she needs the reimbursement — RBG, who generally tops the SCOTUS net worth ranking, continues to hold several seven-figure investments. Listed in the $1,000,0001 to $5 million range are her TIAA/CREF retirement accounts and the Fried Frank pension of her late husband, tax-law god Martin Ginsburg. It seems that Marty Ginsburg used his tax knowledge in his own estate planning; Justice Ginsburg’s form notes the existence of a trust, worth between $500,001 and $1 million, that was created under her husband’s will and funded last year.
Fun tidbit, revealed on his form: the highly cultured Justice Breyer is a juror for the Pritzker Architecture Prize. He received almost $11,000 in book royalties, presumably for Making Our Democracy Work: A Judge’s View and Active Liberty: Interpreting Our Democratic Constitution (affiliate links).
The internationally oriented justice got reimbursed for a dozen trips, including ones to Norway, Sweden, and Monaco. He also got reimbursed by one David Rubenstein — we’re guessing it’s that David Rubenstein, the lawyer turned billionaire investor — for traveling to Nantucket for a wedding last August.
Justice Breyer’s biggest investments: his TIAA/CREF retirement account and a position in Pearson stock, each worth between $1,000,0001 and $5 million. He still owns that property in Nevis (where he was robbed back in 2012). In case you’re wondering, SGB does his personal banking with Bank of America, where he keeps between $50,001 and $100,000 in his checking account.
Justice Alito earned $15,000 from teaching at Duke Law (where his son Philip went to law school, and a decent source of clerk talent for the justice). The somewhat shy SAA got reimbursed for a mere five trips, on the low side for SCOTUS.
He has a long list of investments, including a lot of individual stocks. His two largest single investments are accounts at PNC Bank, worth between $500,001 and $1 million, and an asset worth between $1,000,001 and $5,000,000 that’s listed simply as “Estate #1.” This asset and others might represent an inheritance after the passing in February 2013 of Justice Alito’s mother (as noted by Tony Mauro).
Does Justice Sotomayor need another visit from Suze Orman? The Wise Latina is unwisely carrying balances on four different credit cards. Considering that she received nearly $2 million in advances back in 2012 for her memoir, My Beloved World (affiliate link), one wonders why she still has to resort to credit card debt. She doesn’t seem to be a profligate spender; she shops at Costco, after all.
Here’s a more positive explanation: perhaps she’s carrying balances because she got 0% APR promotions on these cards. Paying interest on these credit card balances would be simply irrational, since the balances total less than $60,000, and her investment schedule reveals Citibank accounts holding between $500,001 and $1 million in cash (presumably a lot of that book advance money). The Citi accounts are her second-biggest investment; her largest investment is the million-dollar apartment in New York’s Greenwich Village, which she now rents out (at perhaps a below-market rent; it seems she earned less than $15,000 in rental income from it in 2013).
Justice Sotomayor reported no book income in 2013 (although she did note that her publisher disbursed almost $30,000 in 2013 to promote her book). Adam Liptak and Tony Mauro interpret this as evidence that sales of My Beloved World, a huge bestseller, have not yet surpassed the justice’s sizable advances.
Justice Kagan, a former law professor and law school dean, earned $14,000 from teaching at Harvard — the college and not the law school, apparently — and $12,500 from McGeorge Law (where Justice Kennedy has taught for many years; perhaps he roped her into it). She got reimbursed for ten trips, putting her in the middle of the SCOTUS pack for speaking engagements. She seems to be a smart investor, with her wealth spread out fairly evenly over a wide range of mutual funds, including some index funds.
Taken as a group, the justices of the Supreme Court of the United States are doing very well for themselves financially. They are far from the wealthiest members of the legal profession, of course, but power and fame aren’t bad consolation prizes.
Royalties and Teaching Help Fill Bank Accounts of Justices, Report Says [New York Times]
Supreme court justices earn quarter-million in cash on the side [Center for Public Integrity]
Justices’ Latest Disclosures Offer Clues to Recusals [Legal Times]
Earlier: Who Is The Richest Supreme Court Justice? A Net Worth Ranking
Does Judge Sotomayor Need A Visit from Suze Orman?
Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? Elena Kagan — She Already Is!
Supreme Court Justices Are Just Like Us — But Richer