Justice Alito Sells Exxon Stock After Years of Case Recusals

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WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 23: U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Alito speaks during the Georgetown University Law Center's third annual Dean's Lecture to the Graduating Class in the Hart Auditorium in McDonough Hall February 23, 2016 in Washington, DC. Moderated by Georgetown Law Dean William M. Treanor, Alito began the conversation talking about his father.

Photographer: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
  • Supreme Court justices release financial disclosure reports
  • Thomas receives bronze bust of Frederick Douglass as gift

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito has finally sold the Exxon Mobil Corp. stock that for almost a decade kept him from taking part in cases involving the world’s biggest publicly traded oil company.

Alito’s 2015 financial disclosure report, released Wednesday, shows that he or his wife sold Exxon stock valued at $100,000 to $250,000.

The stock holdings kept Alito from taking part in a 2008 case when the court cut the punitive damage award for the 1989 Valdez oil spill to $507.5 million from $2.5 billion. Alito’s absence left the court evenly split on a separate Exxon argument that might have wiped out the entire award.

Alito also sold his stakes in several other companies including Target Corp., Sysco Corp. and Kinder Morgan Inc.

Alito, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Stephen Breyer all have financial holdings that occasionally leave them unable to participate in the court’s work. Alito didn’t take part in this year’s Puerto Rico bankruptcy clash because of investments in the island’s municipal bonds.

Under federal law, judges can’t take part in cases if they own stock in a company that is a party. The annual disclosure form lists investments held by the justices, their spouses and any dependent children.

Inadvertent Participation

Breyer and his wife sold a handful of stocks in 2015, including Johnson Controls Inc. That holding caused a problem in October when Breyer took part in an argument involving a company unit, not realizing that he had a conflict of interest. His wife sold her $33,000 in Johnson Controls shares after a reporter inquired.

Breyer also revealed that he had received more than $120,000 from sales of his latest book, "The Court and the World."

Roberts kept all his individual stocks, other than shares of AOL Inc. he sold when it was acquired by Verizon Communications Inc.  

Roberts’ form indicates he or a family member held $250,000 to $500,000 of Microsoft Corp. stock as of Dec. 31, 2015. Roberts participated two weeks later when the court agreed to hear a Microsoft appeal, suggesting he sold the stock in the interim.

Justice Clarence Thomas reported receiving a bronze bust of abolitionist Frederick Douglass valued at $6,484 as a gift from Dallas hotel owner Harlan Crow.

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