Being a Supreme Court Justice Is a Sweet Gig, Financial Disclosures Show

By Kevin Daley

The trappings of high public office yield ample benefits by way of gifts, royalties, and travel for the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, financial disclosure reports released Wednesday show.

Justices Thomas and Kagan were each on the receiving end of lavish gifts — Texas philanthropist Harlan Crow gave Thomas a bronze bust of Frederick Douglass worth more than $6,000, while the University of Chicago gave Kagan a first edition printing of “The Public and Its Government,” by Justice Felix Frankfurter, who served on the Court in the mid twentieth century, signed by Frankfurter himself. An appraiser valued the book at approximately $500.

Justice Stephen Breyer earned more than $120,000 in royalties and “non-employee compensation” from the publisher Random House. The sum, while handsome, is paltry compared to the $3 million Justice Sonia Sotomayor collected on her memoir “My Beloved World.”

All of the justices except Breyer and Sotomayor also collected princely stipends for teaching in law schools around the country. Though Breyer, an accomplished professor, and Sotomayor did not accept faculty positions, they did keep an energetic public schedule, speaking at various law schools and legal forums.

Each of the eight also enjoyed fully reimbursed travel to exotic locales across the globe. Chief Justice John Roberts spent a week at the University of Tokyo in Japan, Justice Ginsburg visited the European Institute in Zurich, Switzerland, Justice Samuel Alito participated in a conference in the Dominican Republic, and Breyer visited London and Paris on five separate occasions.

A Supreme Court watchdog group called Fix the Court has advocated for reforming financial disclosure standards at the high court. The disclosures the justices fill out are not as extensive as those for other public officials, and they are not as easily accessible.

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