US Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson said she had “inadvertently omitted” information in financial disclosure forms, including consulting income her physician spouse earned in medical malpractice cases.
The newest justice’s latest financial disclosures also provided new information about reimbursements for travel and board memberships going back as far as 2014, according to documents recently received by the judicial watchdog group Fix the Court.
“It’s very troubling that someone as fastidious as Justice Jackson,” who has demonstrated her recall ability in two recent Senate confirmations, could omit required information, said Fix the Court Executive Director Gabe Roth.
He noted that Jackson isn’t the only justice to have to make corrections to their financial disclosures, pointing to updates from both Justices Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor.
Without suggesting that these are purposeful ethical lapses, Professor Thomas D. Morgan of the George Washington Law School said any omission on financial disclosure forms are problematic because the question of whether this information is important is subjective .
Moreover, “its very hard to even know whether the omissions occur frequently,” Morgan said.
Culture of Compliance
Justices and other federal judges are required to disclosure certain financial information—though that information hasn’t previously been easily available to the public.
Dylan Hedtler-Gaudette, a judicial ethics expert with the Project On Government Oversight, noted that disclosures required of Congress and the executive branch are more robust than that of the federal judiciary.
A new law enacted in May seeks to change that by mandating disclosures of certain stock transactions and requiring the judiciary to post these financial disclosures online within 90 days.
But even that law, the Courthouse Ethics and Transparency Act, wouldn’t directly affect the omissions in Jackson’s financial disclosures.
The law doesn’t, for example, establish any penalties for omissions, Morgan said.
While there are federal officials who help judges understand the forms, there isn’t an internal body within the judiciary that does any spot or fact checking—something the law also didn’t change, Roth said.
The new law could, however, change the culture surrounding judicial disclosures, having an indirect effect on these kinds of omissions.
More robust and transparent disclosures could “shift the federal judiciary from a culture of silence to a culture of compliance,” said University of Houston Law Center professor Renee Knake Jefferson, during a 2021 congressional hearing on court transparency.
One notable omission in Jackson’s fillings relate to spousal income.
Jackson disclosed that she had “inadvertently omitted” information regarding self-employed consulting income her spouse “periodically receives from consulting on medical malpractice cases.” Jackson’s husband is a surgeon at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.
Spousal information can create clear conflicts of interest—or at least the perception of impropriety—though Roth noted that cases on medical malpractice relevant to her husband’s work are unlikely to come before the justices.
Recent legislation has focused more narrowly on stock transactions, particularly after the Wall Street Journal reported in 2021 that 131 federal judges participated in 685 matters involving companies in which they or their families owned stock between 2010 and 2018.
Chief Justice John Roberts said the judiciary “is taking the concerns seriously and has committed itself to the careful labor of addressing them” in his 2021 end-of-year report.
Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito are the only two current justices whose portfolios contain individual stocks.
“The Supreme Court’s credibility and the legitimacy of the institution is being undermined by” lapses or gaps in disclosures, Hedtler-Gaudette said. And if Congress or the judiciary don’t figure out a way to address these concerns, “it’s only going to get worse,” he said.
To contact the reporter on this story:
To contact the editors responsible for this story: