U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh listed just two assets worth a maximum of $65,000 on his 2017 personal financial disclosure, plus a debt of as much as $15,000.
Kavanaugh’s modest disclosed assets are a departure from several of the sitting justices, who report assets in the millions of dollars, and from President Donald Trump’s own cabinet and staff. The White House ethics team has said those appointees filed “likely the most complex financial disclosures in the history of any presidential administration.”
Kavanaugh, who has spent most of his career in government service, listed Bank of America accounts valued at $15,001 to $50,000 and a retirement plan from a job his wife left in 2000, valued at $15,000 or less. Federal officials and nominees disclose their assets in broad ranges.
His form may not include other significant assets he may own. Judges aren’t required to disclose federal retirement plans or their personal residences. His 2017 report shows that he has borrowed from a federal Thrift Savings Plan and owes as much as $15,000.
He and his wife, Ashley, bought their home in the upscale Washington suburb of Chevy Chase, Maryland, for $1.2 million in 2006, according to state property records.
“It sounds like he’s living on what he earns,” said Larry Noble, a former general counsel of the Federal Election Commission.
The Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks financial disclosures of high-ranking government officials, said the median net worth disclosed by Supreme Court members — the average of the high and low range — is $4.6 million. But rules of the Judicial Conference of the U.S., which oversees the disclosure process, state that that the reports “are not net-worth statements.”
“It’s more designed to show potential conflicts-of-interest,” said Alex Baumgart, a researcher at the Center for Responsive Politics who studies the disclosures.
Trump’s first high court nominee, Justice Neil Gorsuch, who was confirmed last year, reported assets worth at least $3.6 million.
Kavanaugh will have to make additional financial disclosures to the Senate Judiciary Committee ahead of his confirmation vote.
Kavanaugh, nominated to replace the retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, has spent most of his career working for the federal government, except for two stints at a private law firm totaling as much as five years.
He clerked for three federal judges and worked for Kenneth Starr when he was solicitor general in the George H.W. Bush administration and when Starr investigated President Bill Clinton as the Whitewater independent counsel. Kavanaugh joined President George W. Bush’s administration until he was confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 2006.
His wife served as personal secretary to the second Bush from the start of his term through 2004. She was his assistant when he was governor of Texas.
‘Just a Bank Account’
Gabe Roth, executive director of Fix the Court, which advocates for more accountability from the Supreme Court, said other judges have had similar financial profiles, including nominees for the high court. “Anthony Kennedy really just had a bank account and a retirement account and life insurance,” he said.
Federal judges are supposed to recuse themselves from cases in which they, their spouses or dependent children have a financial interest. The Supreme Court justices also follow that standard, although they aren’t required to by federal law.
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito on occasion step aside from cases involving companies in which they hold stock.
Roth said, “Having all these different stocks and securities always lead to errors when they haven’t recused when they should recuse.”
Circuit court judges currently earn $220,600 a year, and Kavanaugh’s financial disclosure shows he earned another $27,490 last year teaching at Harvard Law School. If confirmed to the Supreme Court, his salary would increase to $255,300.