The Weirdest Gifts Revealed by Supreme Court Justices
POLITICO reviewed all current and former justice annual disclosure forms during Roberts’ 18-year tenure as chief justice. The nearly 200 reports, though often sparse, list dozens of freebies – an assortment of artwork, historical memorabilia and other oddities that offer insight into the tastes and personalities of the judges. Sonia Sotomayor seems to love modern art. Neil Gorsuch is an outdoor enthusiast. Antonin Scalia was a passionate hunter. And Roberts loves opera.
Here are some of the biggest and most unusual gifts the judges disclosed. (This non-exhaustive list only includes tangible gifts; it does not include the larger reimbursements judges often receive for transportation, lodging, and meals.)
got opera tickets
Since joining the court in 2005, the Chief Justice has reported very few giveaways. In fact, other than a few “honorary memberships” to local clubs he disclosed early in his tenure, the only items Roberts ever said he received as gifts were two tickets to an “opera dinner and ball.” at the Washington National Opera in June. 5, 2009. He listed the value of the tickets as $500.
got a bust of Frederick Douglass
Thomas is being criticized for not disclosing various perks he received from Crow, the Texas real estate mogul and GOP megadonor who took Thomas on luxury trips, bought him property and paid the expenses tuition of Thomas’ great-nephew. But Thomas reported a gift from Crow in 2015. Crow gave Thomas a bronze bust of Frederick Douglass worth $6,484.12.
A year earlier, when Thomas received an award from his alma mater, Yale Law School, he reported that the school had given him a “$530 stained glass medallion resting on an oak base with a brass plaque.” .
got a sculpture of a hand
Liberal detractors of Alito, the author of the opinion reversal Roe vs. Wade, accused him of ruling with an iron fist. But Alito’s desk is apparently adorned with something else: a bronze hand. He said he received a “hand cast in bronze” in 2016. The value is listed at $3,000 and the source is listed as Bottega Mortet, a goldsmith in Rome, Italy.
i have fine art
Sotomayor was confirmed at the High Court in 2009, and in her first three years on the bench she disclosed more gifts – and provided more details about them – than any of her colleagues. Since 2012, however, it has reported almost no gifts. Some of the objects she listed in her early years look worthy of a modern art gallery. In 2011, she received a “translucent composite print”, apparently from California photographer Robert Weingarten, worth $6,000. In 2010, she received a “sculpture of Einstein” from artist Robert Berks, valued at $1,500. And in 2009, she received a watercolor of three owls, worth $1,125.
got a book autographed by Felix Frankfurter
In his 13 years in the field, Kagan has revealed only one gift: a signed first edition of The public and its government by former judge Felix Frankfurter in 2015. It was given to her by the University of Chicago Law School and she listed a value of $499.94.
got cowboy boots, fishing rod and paint
Gorsuch, a Colorado native, was celebrated for bringing a Western sensibility to a court dominated by East Coasters. And two of the gifts he revealed during his five years on the bench evoke the great outdoors. He received cowboy boots worth $699.99 from a Texas retailer as part of a Texas Supreme Court Historical Society dinner, and he received a $500 fishing rod from the owner of a bait and tackle store in Colorado.
Gorsuch also leaked a $1,000 watercolor, although unlike Sotomayor’s Three Owls, Gorsuch did not detail its subject matter.
The three new judges
did not reveal any gifts
Brett Kavanaugh (who was confirmed in 2018), Amy Coney Barrett (who was confirmed in 2020) and Ketanji Brown Jackson (who was confirmed in 2022) have so far reported no gifts while on the pitch . None of the judges’ disclosure forms for 2022 have yet been released; these are expected next month.
I have guns and dictionaries
Prior to his death in 2016, Scalia was well known for enjoying two things: hunting and textualism. So it’s perhaps fitting that the conservative icon said he received two guns and $950 worth of dictionaries in his final years on the court. The firearms – a shotgun worth $1,000 and a rifle worth $600 – were given to him by the National Wild Turkey Federation. The dictionaries come from renowned legal lexicographer Bryan Garner, who co-authored a book with Scalia.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
received a $1 million prize, which she reported donating to charity
By far the biggest giveaway any justice has leaked in the past two decades is a million dollar prize Ginsburg won in 2019, a year before his death. The Berggruen Institute, a California think tank founded by billionaire investor Nicolas Berggruen, awarded Ginsburg its annual Culture and Philosophy Award. Ginsburg said she gave the money to unspecified charities.
Ginsburg also pointed to other valuable gifts that did not go to charity. In 2018, she amended a disclosure form to reflect her receipt of an operatic costume, worth $4,500, from her non-singing performance in Washington’s production of “The Daughter of the Regiment.” National Opera. Ginsburg also once brought home a $2,500 gift bag she received as part of her nomination as one of Glamor magazine’s “Women of the Year.”