JULY 12, 2018
US Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh incurred tens of thousands of dollars of credit card debt buying baseball tickets over the past decade and at times reported liabilities that could have exceeded the value of his cash accounts and investment assets, according to a review of Kavanaugh’s financial disclosures and information provided by the White House.
White House spokesman Raj Shah told The Washington Post that Kavanaugh built up the debt by buying Washington Nationals season tickets and tickets for playoff games for himself and a “handful” of friends. Shah said some of the debts were also for home improvements.
In 2016, Kavanaugh reported having between $60,000 and $200,000 in debt accrued over three credit cards and a loan. Each credit card held between $15,000 and $50,000 in debt, and a Thrift Savings Plan loan was between $15,000 and $50,000.
The credit card debts and loan were either paid off or fell below the reporting requirements in 2017, according to the filings, which do not require details on the nature or source of such payments. Shah told The Post that Kavanaugh’s friends reimbursed him for their share of the baseball tickets and that the judge has since stopped purchasing the season tickets.
Shah did not provide the names of the friends or additional details about the tickets. Kavanaugh, who is known to be a Nationals fan, declined to comment.
Raj Shah said the payments for the tickets were made at the end of 2016 and paid off early the next year.
“He did not carry that kind of debt year over year,” Shah said.
Kavanaugh’s most recent financial disclosure forms reveal reportable assets between $15,000 and $65,000, which would put him at the bottom of the financial ranking of justices, most of whom list well over $1 million in assets. The value of residences is not subject to disclosure, and Shah added that Kavanaugh has a government retirement account worth nearly half a million dollars that also was not required to be disclosed.
“At this time the Kavanaughs have no debt beyond their home mortgage,” Shah said.
He said that Kavanaugh has assets of nearly $1 million between the equity in his home and his retirement account.
Unlike some of the other justices, Kavanaugh has worked more than two decades in the public sector and has not built wealth as a private lawyer.
“Judge Kavanaugh is a brilliant jurist who has dedicated his life to public service,” Shah said.
Prices for Nationals season ticket packages can vary widely, depending on their location in the stadium. Seats a dozen rows behind the dugout can go for as much as $6,000 apiece for an 81-game season package.
Gleaning financial information from public disclosure forms has limitations. For instance, judges do not report primary residences — meaning that estimates of net worth can be significantly undervalued. Disclosures are meant to provide transparency to avoid conflicts of interest involving justices and those who do business before the court.
Federal law requires only broad ranges for disclosure forms, and such filings include assets for spouses, so it is difficult to pinpoint an exact financial snapshot for an individual.
But for Kavanaugh, the differences between his finances and those of his would-be peers on the court are stark. He lists just two kinds of assets — unspecified accounts held with Bank of America, and his wife’s retirement fund from her job in Texas — totaling between $15,000 to $65,000.
His public filing does not include his home, which he purchased with his wife, Ashley, in 2006 for $1.2 million. Public real estate filings indicate that the couple has refinanced their mortgage twice, most recently in 2015. Their current mortgage is $865,000.
His past financial disclosure forms reveal that Kavanaugh has incurred significant credit card debt on and off for more than a decade. He previously reported between $60,000 to $200,000 in debt among three credit cards and a loan in 2006, the same year he was confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
Without including homes, Kavanaugh would rank at the bottom of disclosed assets among the justices by a considerable margin, according to a review of 2017 disclosures listed on Fix the Court, a website dedicated to greater transparency in the judiciary.
Justice Clarence Thomas has assets listed between $695,000 and $1.7 million, which is the least among the justices, not counting departing Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, but still at least 10 times that of Kavanaugh. The court’s newest justice, Neil M. Gorsuch, reported assets worth between $3.6 million and $10.5 million in his most recent filings. The justice with the highest reported assets was Stephen G. Breyer, who listed between $6.4 million and $16.6 million.
Federal circuit judges draw annual salaries of about $220,000 a year, and Kavanaugh supplemented his salary with more than $27,000 in teaching income in 2017 from Harvard Law School. Associate justices on the Supreme Court make $255,300, while Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. draws a $267,000 salary.
Kavanaugh lives in the Village of Chevy Chase, Section 5, where his wife works as the town manager and draws a $66,000 annual salary. She began the job in 2015 and did not report any income for the prior four years.
The Kavanaughs send their two daughters to the Catholic private school of Blessed Sacrament, where tuition costs $10,025 per child.
The perch of a Supreme Court seat can provide additional sources of income. Shortly after her 2009 nomination to the court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor announced plans for a memoir, which was published in 2013. Last year, Sotomayor reported more than $117,000 in income from publisher Penguin Random House. She received a publisher’s advance of nearly $1.2 million.
Academic trips and fellowships can also bring in additional income. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg earned $25,000 as a visiting fellow to Stanford University last year.