A property in Colorado partly owned by Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch was on the market for nearly two years with no bites. Then Gorsuch was confirmed to the court and within nine days the property sold, Politico reports. Gorsuch reported the proceeds of the sale in his federal disclosure forms, but somehow missed the box where he was supposed to report to whom he sold the property. That raises once again the thorny problem of Supreme Court ethics, or lack thereof.
Gorsuch did report the money he made from the sale on federal disclosure forms. What he didn’t disclose was the buyer: Brian Duffy, chief executive of Greenberg Traurig,. that just happens to be a powerhouse law firm that has regular business before the Supreme Court.
Politico found that Greenberg Traurig had been before the court in 22 cases since Gorsuch was seated, either presenting cases or filing amicus briefs. In the dozen cases where Gorsuch’s opinion was recorded, he sided with them eight times and against them in four. That included one very political and significant case overturning Obama-era rules limiting carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act, a ruling that limits the government’s role in fighting climate change.
At least Gorsuch bothered to report the sale of the Colorado property, which is more than his colleague Clarence Thomas deigned to do when his very good and remarkably generous friend Harlan Crow helped him out on some real estate deals. That included buying Thomas’ mother’s house, completing an extensive renovation of it, and then allowing her to live there rent-free.
But Gorsuch’s failure to disclose that Duffy was the buyer is potentially a violation of federal disclosure laws, as Kedric Payne, director of ethics at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, reads them. Payne told Politico that “investments in LLCs require more details than the justice includes in his financial disclosures.“
“This transaction appears to also require naming the buyer. The public has a right to know that justices will fully comply with disclosure rules instead of providing only a tiny peek into their financial disclosures,” he said. He did stress that there aren’t enough facts available now to determine whether it was a simple omission or a violation.
Gorsuch did not comment on the story. Duffy told Politico that he has never met Gorsuch, or personally argued before the court. “I’ve never spoken to him,” Duffy said. “I’ve never met him.”
But plenty of Greenberg’s colleagues sure have—he’s not just CEO, but the head of the whole team of 600 lawyers. It could be a coincidence that the property Gorsuch and his co-owners had been trying to unload for two years sold immediately after his confirmation. It could be coincidental that the buyer was someone with a vested interest in the Supreme Court.
In fact, there’s no rule saying Supreme Court justices absolutely can’t have financial dealings with people who have had or might someday have an interest in court decisions. However, they are supposed to check their own behavior and recuse themselves from cases involving people with whom they have had such relationships.
They are also required by federal disclosure laws to report those dealing in their financial disclosures. Gorsuch didn’t do that, either by simple omission or on purpose. We don’t know which, and that’s part of the problem, too, because there are so few mechanisms to ensure transparency from the Supreme Court. There is a code of ethics for the federal judiciary, but the Supreme Court justices are exempted from it. They are left to police themselves.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin issued a typically concerned statement to Politico. “We have seen a steady stream of revelations regarding Supreme Court Justices falling short of the ethical standards expected of other federal judges and of public servants,” said Durbin. “The need for Supreme Court ethics reform is clear, and if the Court does not take adequate action, Congress must. The Senate Judiciary Committee will be closely examining these matters in the coming weeks,” said Durbin.
The Supreme Court has had plenty of opportunity to take that action, for years and years and years, and it has not. It is absolutely time for Congress to act, and that starts with Durbin and his committee.
Markos and Kerry are joined by Aaron Rupar today to discuss what he is seeing in the right-wing media landscape. Rupar is an independent journalist whose Public Notice Substack is a must-read for those who want to know how truly outrageous the conservative movement is. We are addicted to his Twitter account, with its never-ending stream of Republican lunacy all captured on video.
The next chapter in the Thomas-Crow Affair: Shady real estate deals putting money in Thomas' pocket
Billionaire Harlan Crow bought property from Clarence Thomas. The justice didn’t disclose the deal
Clarence Thomas allegedly broke one of the few ethics laws that apply to the Supreme Court