WASHINGTON – It's not a measure of the stock market's strength or weakness, but the Supreme Court is selling.
Only three justices own individual stocks, a practice that occasionally forces them to recuse themselves from cases. All three – Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Stephen Breyer – reduced their holdings in 2017.
The stock sales, revealed in annual financial disclosure statements released Thursday, were heralded by the public interest group Fix the Court, which advocates for increased transparency. The group noted that the three justices now own 44 companies, down from 76 in 2014, a 40% drop.
"Each year, dozens of publicly traded companies petition the Supreme Court, and in roughly 50 instances annually, a justice will own shares," said Gabe Roth, executive director of Fix the Court. "Luckily, only three justices – Roberts, Breyer and Alito – own individual stocks, and they've slowly begun selling them off."
Still, the three justices retain shares in many large companies with interest in court actions. Roberts has shares in Time Warner and Texas Instruments, among others. Alito owns stock in 28 companies, including 3M, Abbott Labs, Boeing, Caterpillar, DowDuPont, Johnson & Johnson, Merck and Procter & Gamble. Breyer has holdings in Lowe's, among others.
Justices have recused themselves from 31 cases this term because of stock holdings, down from 47 last term, according to Fix the Court's data.
Among other highlights from the financial disclosure statements:
• Justice Neil Gorsuch sold his interest in a Colorado mountain property co-owned with an associate of billionaire Philip Anschutz, who championed his 2006 nomination to a federal appeals court.
• Justice Sonia Sotomayor out-earned her fellow authors, netting $117,500 in advances for two books, including an adaptation of her autobiography, My Beloved World, for young readers. By contrast, Gorsuch and Breyer received less than $10,000 and $5,000, respectively, in royalties for previous books.
• Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was most in demand, claiming reimbursement for 13 trips, including to Malta, the Netherlands and Hawaii. Sotomayor appeared in Italy and Tanzania, Roberts in Australia and New Zealand, and Breyer in the Netherlands, Mexico and Peru.