Justice Thomas delays disclosures after reports of travel, property sale

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas participates in taking a new “family photo” with his fellow justices at the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., U.S., June 1, 2017.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has asked for more time to file annual financial disclosures after criticism that he did not report luxury travel and real estate deals with a Texas billionaire and Republican donor.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. also asked for an extension as he has done in previous years. Both requests were confirmed by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts on Wednesday, the same day that disclosure reports filed by their court colleagues were posted on the court system’s website.

The reports, covering activity in 2022 and detailed below, show that the justices earned thousands of dollars from teaching; received payments for books they wrote; and accepted free travel to lecture at legal conferences, including in Italy and Scotland.

Only one justice reported gifts: Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, who joined the court last June, disclosed a $1,200 congratulatory flower arrangement from Oprah Winfrey and a $6,580 designer outfit she wore in photos for a Vogue magazine piece.

The Supreme Court is under increasing pressure from Democratic lawmakers and transparency advocates to strengthen disclosure rules and adopt ethics guidelines specific to the justices after news reports revealed Thomas’s undisclosed real estate deals and private jet travel, and raised questions about the recusal practices of both conservative and liberal justices.

Thomas’s 2022 filing was highly anticipated after ProPublica reported on the justice’s financial dealings with his close friend and benefactor, Texas business executive Harlan Crow. Instead, Thomas will have up to 90 additional days to submit his filing, which could include updates related to his finances from past years.

Revised ethics rules adopted in March require the justices – and all federal judges – to provide a fuller public accounting of the free trips and other gifts they accept. The changes make clear, for instance, that judges must report travel by private jet. The revised rules were also designed to clarify which gifts can be counted as “personal hospitality” from a close friend and exempt from disclosure.

Judges are not alone in having to fill out such forms. Federal ethics law requires top officials from all branches of government, including the legislative and executive branches, to file annual disclosures listing investments, gifts, and spousal and outside income so that the public can assess potential conflicts of interest.

There were small signs Wednesday that the scrutiny of the court’s practices have had an impact. Justice Elena Kagan for the first time explained in her disclosure form that the rental income she has listed in previous years comes from a parking space she owns in D.C. The space is valued between $15,000 and $50,000, and Kagan collected between $2,501 and $5,000 in rent, according to the filing.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. made slight revisions to how he reported his wife’s income after stories this year detailed her work recruiting lawyers to work at law firms.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor included several notes explaining, for instance, that she had extended a subsidized trip to Scotland – at her own expense – for vacation purposes, and that as part of her meetings with college students in Missouri and young people in Connecticut, the sponsors purchased copies of her memoir, which were distributed at the events.

Three of the justices – Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett – reported income from teaching, all of which fell under the limit of about $30,000 per year for outside income. In 2022, the justices made $274,200 for their work on the court, and the chief justice was paid $286,700. In 2023, their salary is $285,400 for justices and $298,500 for the chief.

ProPublica reported this spring that Thomas has taken numerous luxury trips with Crow and, in 2014, sold Crow three properties in Savannah, Ga. – the home where Thomas’s mother was living and two vacant lots nearby.

Experts have said the $133,363 real estate transaction should have been reported on his financial disclosure forms. Thomas’s allies have said that the justice’s free travel with Crow did not need to be disclosed and that there is nothing wrong with accepting gifts from a longtime friend. But transparency advocates say such spending should have been disclosed – and certainly reported starting with the 2022 forms, because of the revised rules adopted in March.

A different ProPublica article said Crow paid private boarding school tuition for Thomas’s grandnephew, a young man the justice has said he raised as a son. Thomas did not disclose the tuition arrangement, which the justice’s allies said was not subject to reporting requirements because the definition of “dependent child” does not include a grandnephew.

A committee of the federal judiciary’s policymaking body is reviewing complaints from Democratic lawmakers that Thomas should have disclosed his dealings with Crow.

Here are summaries of the disclosures filed Wednesday.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

Roberts reported no reimbursements, liabilities or outside positions, in keeping with recent years. The value of his portfolio of stocks and other investments, ranging between $8.6 million and $24.3 million, dipped only slightly from 2021.

The chief justice included additional information about his wife’s income. A former colleague of Jane Sullivan Roberts has publicly raised concerns that her recruiting work could pose conflicts. The former colleague also said the chief justice’s description of his wife’s income as “salary” in previous disclosure reports was misleading because she collected commissions.

In the new form, Roberts described his wife’s 2022 income from the recruiting firm Macrae as a “recoverable base salary and commission,” and noted that the new description was “clarified over prior year reports.” Roberts also reported that he had inadvertently left out his wife’s equity stake in the firm in forms he filed for 2019 through 2021. She acquired the stake, worth between $100,000 and $250,000, when she started her employment there, Roberts wrote.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor

Sotomayor reported earning $149,000 in book royalty payments for “Turning Pages” and “Just Ask!” from Penguin Random House. She was reimbursed for transportation, lodging and meals in Scotland in July, when she participated in the New York University Law Leadership Conference. Sotomayor also reported trips to St. Louis and Chicago that were reimbursed by Washington University and Just the Beginning – A Pipeline Organization, respectively.

The justice reported income between $5,001 to $15,000 from a New York rental property valued between $1,000,001 and $5,000,000. Sotomayor continues to sit on the board of iCivics, a nonprofit education organization founded by retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

Justice Elena Kagan

Kagan reported reimbursements for transportation, hotel and meals for five trips in September, during which she spoke at Temple Emanu-El in New York; Northwestern Law School in Chicago; Yale Law School in New Haven, Conn.; Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I.; and the University of Toronto. In October, she spoke at the University of Pennsylvania for the inauguration of the university’s president, Elizabeth Magill.

Justice Neil Gorsuch

Gorsuch reported earning nearly $29,000 from George Mason University for teaching. In July, he taught at a two-week program in Padua, Italy, attended by 24 students from George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School and was reimbursed for his travel expenses.

Gorsuch also listed reimbursements for travel to a Federalist Society program in Orlando, and to a board meeting for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in November.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh

Kavanaugh reported earning $29,894.96 in outside income as a visiting professor at Scalia Law School. He noted that he will be an adjunct professor at the University of Notre Dame Law School this year.

Kavanaugh also said he was a coach for the seventh- and eighth-grade girls’ basketball team at Blessed Sacrament. He was reimbursed for travel to Rome in September to speak at a conference for U.S. and foreign judges. The reimbursement came from the Kellogg Institute for International Studies at Notre Dame.

He noted that his wife, Ashley Kavanaugh, remains town manager for Chevy Chase Village Section 5.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett

Barrett continued teaching at the University of Notre Dame Law School, earning $29,447.50. She was reimbursed for a half-dozen trips, giving an address at the Ronald Reagan Library in California in April; the Big Sky Labor and Employment Institute in August; and at the annual meeting of the American College of Trial Lawyers in Rome in September. Barrett was also reimbursed for food and lodging connected to a speech she gave at the Diocesan Red Mass in Richmond sponsored by the St. Thomas More Society in October.

Barrett reported that her husband, Jesse M. Barrett, an attorney, continues to work for the Indiana-based law firm SouthBank Legal.

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson

Jackson continued to serve of the board of overseers of Harvard University, where she was an undergraduate and attended law school. She was reimbursed for travel expenses to attend a board meeting and commencement last May. Because of her Harvard ties, Jackson did not participate in the case against Harvard’s race-conscious admissions practices, which will be decided before the end of the term.

She reported that her husband, Patrick Jackson, continues to work for MedStar, where he is a surgeon, and is paid as an expert witness.