The US supreme court justice Neil Gorsuch made as much as $500,000 from a 2017 real estate sale, according to a new report, but did not disclose the identity of the buyer: the chief executive of a law firm with extensive business before the high court.
The news represents a new headache for the chief justice, John Roberts, who Democrats want to testify over extensive media reporting about the relationship between Clarence Thomas, another conservative, and a Republican mega-donor, Harlan Crow. Roberts has declined to appear before the Senate judiciary committee next week, according to Senator Dick Durbin.
Gorsuch was confirmed in 2017, the first of three appointments under Donald Trump which tilted the court firmly right.
He has since voted with conservative majorities in decisions including the removal of the federal right to abortion and a loosening of gun control laws.
The chief executive who bought property from Gorsuch, Brian Duffy of Greenberg Traurig, told Politico, he had “never spoken” to Gorsuch. “I’ve never met him.”
But news of Duffy’s $1.825m purchase of the Colorado property, of which Gorsuch was one of three co-owners and which the justice said in disclosure documents netted him between $250,001 and $500,000 after being on the market two years, followed news of Crow’s largesse to Thomas.
ProPublica reported Crow’s gifts, including luxury travel and holidays, and Thomas’s failure to declare them.
Amid widespread reporting about Crow’s collection of Nazi memorabilia, including paintings by Adolf Hitler, ProPublica also reported that Crow bought property from Thomas: a house in Georgia in which Thomas’s mother lives.
Thomas said he was advised he did not need to declare such gifts. Crow, who also gave money to Thomas’s wife, the far-right activist Ginni Thomas, said he and his friend never discussed politics or court business.
Outlets including the Guardian have shown that groups linked to Crow have had business before the court in the time of his friendship with Thomas.
Calls for action against Thomas, including impeachment, are unlikely to produce results. Supreme court justices are subject to federal regulations but in practice govern themselves. But public trust in the court has reached historic lows.
Politico said Duffy’s firm had been involved in “at least 22 cases before or presented to the court”, including filing amicus briefs or representing parties, while Gorsuch was on the court.
“In the 12 cases where Gorsuch’s opinion is recorded,” the site said, “he sided with Greenberg Traurig clients eight times and against them four times.”
Politico also noted Greenberg’s involvement in a major lawsuit over a climate change plan during Barack Obama’s presidency.
Gorsuch, it said, “joined the court’s other five conservatives in agreeing with the plaintiffs – including Greenberg’s client – that the Environmental Protection Agency had overstepped its authority by regulating carbon emissions from power plants”.
Gorsuch, Politico said, “did not respond to inquiries about the [property] sale, his disclosures or whether he should have reported Duffy’s identity as the purchaser”.
Duffy said he did not know Gorsuch was a co-owner when he made his offer, adding: “The fact he was going to be a supreme court justice was absolutely irrelevant to the purchase.”
Durbin, the Democratic chair of the Senate judiciary committee, said: “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.
“The need for supreme court ethics reform is clear, and if the court does not take adequate action, Congress must.”
Kyle Herrig, president of the watchdog Accountable.US, said: “Without decisive action, the conservatives on the supreme court will forever tarnish its reputation in our public life.”
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