Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch failed to disclose that the CEO of a prominent law firm that frequently argues cases before the Court purchased a large piece of property he had invested in — a transaction that occurred just days after Gorsuch had been appointed to the bench in 2017, a new report reveals.
The report comes just weeks after a separate report uncovered that Justice Clarence Thomas failed to disclose high-dollar contributions from a right-wing billionaire.
Prior to his appointment, Gorsuch and his wife had invested in a 40-acre property in Colorado. Gorsuch had the property for sale for two years before his nomination by former President Donald Trump, Politico said in a report published on Tuesday morning.
In April 2017, just nine days after Gorsuch was placed on the Court, a purchase of the property was finalized. Brian Duffy, the CEO of Greenberg Traurig — one of the biggest law firms in the country — bought the plot for around $1.825 million.
Gorsuch and his wife included the sale and their earnings from it (between $250,001 and $500,000) in disclosure forms that Supreme Court justices are encouraged to regularly fill out. However, Gorsuch left blank the space where he was supposed to disclose who the money came from.
Tellingly, the firm Duffy runs has had nearly two dozen cases appear before the Supreme Court since the purchase was made. In cases involving Greenberg where Gorsuch’s opinion was recorded, he ruled in favor of clients represented by Greenberg two-thirds of the time. In one of those cases, a Denver-based lawyer for Greenberg represented North Dakota in a lawsuit that overturned climate change protections from the Obama era.
Sales like the one between Gorsuch and Greenberg could potentially constitute an ethics violation for executive or legislative branch officials, especially in instances where their decision-making was favorable to individuals they did business with. But because the Supreme Court sets its own rules, Gorsuch’s failure to disclose Greenberg’s connection to his real estate sale — or to recuse himself from cases involving the firm — isn’t technically illegal.
Congress still has the power to vote to impeach a justice for failing to abide by ethics guidelines, however. Justices of the Supreme Court, much like presidents or other executive branch officials, aren’t just subject to impeachments over actual crimes, but also over inappropriate conduct while performing their duties in office.
Only one justice has ever been impeached — Samuel Chase, in 1805, for behaving “in an arbitrary, oppressive, and unjust way by announcing his legal interpretation on the law” during a jury trial featuring charges of treason. Chase was acquitted by the Senate in his impeachment trial, beginning a long tradition of other branches of government failing to hold the highest members of the judiciary accountable for their actions.
Politico’s report this week on Gorsuch’s failure to report high income from a source posing a conflict of interest comes just weeks after a ProPublica report revealed that Thomas had received lavish gifts, paid vacation travels, and real estate deals from billionaire Republican megadonor Harlan Crow.
Crow also purchased a house owned by Thomas, allowing the justice’s mother to live there rent-free and making tens of thousands of dollars of improvements to the property.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) has said that Thomas should be impeached over his failure to divulge his financial relationship with Crow.
“This is beyond party or partisanship. This degree of corruption is shocking — almost cartoonish,” Ocasio-Cortez said earlier this month. “Thomas must be impeached.”
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