Demographics of The Supreme Court of The United States - Economic Background - Financial Disclosures

Financial Disclosures

Beginning in 1979, the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 required federal officials, including the justices, to file annual disclosures of their income and assets. These disclosures provide a snapshot into the wealth of the justices, reported within broad ranges, from year to year since 1979. In the first such set of disclosures, only two justices were revealed to be millionaires: Potter Stewart and Lewis F. Powell, with Chief Justice Warren Burger coming in third with about $600,000 in holdings. The least wealthy Justice was Thurgood Marshall.

The 1982 report disclosed that newly appointed Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was a millionaire, and the second-wealthiest Justice on the Court (after Powell). The remaining justices listed assets in the range of tens of thousands to a few hundred-thousand, with the exception of Thurgood Marshall, who "reported no assets or investment income of more than $100". The 1985 report had the justices in relatively the same positions, while the 1992 report had O'Connor as the wealthiest member of the Court, with Stevens being the only other millionaire, most other justices reporting assets averaging around a half million dollars, and the two newest justices, Clarence Thomas and David Souter, reporting assets of at least $65,000.

The 2007 report was the first to reflect the holdings of John Roberts and Samuel Alito. Disclosures for that year indicated that Clarence Thomas and Anthony Kennedy were the only justices who were clearly not millionaires, although Thomas was reported to have signed a book deal worth over one million dollars. Other justices reported holdings within the following ranges:

Justice Lowest range Highest range
John Roberts $2,400,000 $6,200,000
John Paul Stevens $1,100,000 $3,500,000
Antonin Scalia $1,200,000 $2,800,000
Anthony Kennedy $365,000 $765,000
David Souter $5,000,000 $25,000,000
Clarence Thomas $150,000 $410,000
Ruth Bader Ginsburg $5,000,000 $25,000,000
Stephen Breyer $4,900,000 $16,800,000
Samuel Alito $770,000 $2,000,000

The financial disclosures indicate that many of the justices have substantial stock holdings. This, in turn, has affected the business of the Court, as these holdings have led justices to recuse themselves from cases, occasionally with substantial impact. For example, in 2008, the recusal of John Roberts in one case, and Samuel Alito in another, resulted in each ending in a 4-4 split, which does not create a binding precedent. The Court was unable to decide another case in 2008 because four of the nine justices had conflicts, three arising from stock ownership in affected companies.

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