Disclosures Reveal Supreme Court Justices’ Reimbursed Travel, Undisclosed Gifts Raise Concerns

New details have emerged regarding some Supreme Court justices receiving undisclosed luxury travel gifts, while their personal financial disclosures show

Supreme Court

New details have emerged regarding some Supreme Court justices receiving undisclosed luxury travel gifts, while their personal financial disclosures show that most sitting justices have been reimbursed for international travel during their tenure. Between 2021 and 2022, eight out of nine justices reported a total of 34 trips funded by private groups, including universities, legal organizations, and ideologically-focused entities.

According to judiciary policy, Supreme Court justices must disclose travel-related reimbursements exceeding $415 in value from a single source in their annual personal financial disclosures. These reports include travel locations, dates, and the nature of expenses but not the overall cost of travel. Additionally, personal hospitality from individuals does not fall under these disclosure requirements.

While all sitting justices, except Chief Justice John Roberts, reported travel reimbursements between 2021 and 2022, Justices Amy Coney Barrett and Elena Kagan reported the highest number of reimbursed trips, each with eight. These trips included lectures and addresses, such as Barrett’s speech at the American College of Trial Lawyers’ annual meeting in Rome in September 2022 and Kagan’s series of speeches at universities across the United States and Canada in September and October 2022.

Many justices cited educational programs as the primary reason for travel reimbursements. Seven justices reported travel expenses reimbursed by universities for participating in such programs. The University of Notre Dame reimbursed the most justices, covering travel costs for Justices Samuel Alito, Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh, and Clarence Thomas on a combined total of six different trips. Notre Dame’s Kellogg Institute for International Studies also sponsored Kavanaugh’s trip to Rome in September 2022 to participate in a seminar on constitutionalism and the rule of law.

Another university, George Mason University, reimbursed Justices Neil Gorsuch and Kagan for their participation in a study abroad program on national security hosted by the university’s National Security Institute in Reykjavik, Iceland, in June 2021. Gorsuch also taught at another study-abroad program in Padua, Italy, in June 2022.

Some justices’ travel reimbursements revealed connections to ideological organizations. Barrett received a reimbursement from the Thomas More Society, a conservative Catholic public interest law firm, for her travel to Richmond, Va., to deliver an address at a dinner held in conjunction with the Red Mass. Gorsuch was reimbursed by the Federalist Society, a conservative and libertarian legal organization, for his transportation and accommodations to speak at their Florida chapter’s annual meeting.

While personal financial disclosures are meant to expose all free travel justices receive, recent reports from ProPublica have shown that Justices Samuel Alito and Thomas received luxury travel gifts that went unreported on their annual financial disclosures. These undisclosed gifts, including private yacht trips and vacations, raise concerns about potential conflicts of interest and the accuracy of financial disclosures.

It is worth noting that judicial ethics guidelines have exceptions for certain gifts, such as social hospitality based on personal relationships and modest items offered as a matter of social hospitality, which does not require disclosure.

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