Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Roberts participated in an important court case, despite the fact that he had a major personal stake in the ruling. The case involved Texas Instruments, a company in which Justice Roberts and his family maintain various financial holdings that are valued up to $250,000.  

In the final ruling, the court ended up rejecting two different appeals that were made in an environmental cleanup case that involved hazardous waste in Tucson, AZ. One of the companies that made an appeal was Texas Instruments. The court ruling was made earlier this year in October.

This blunder represents the second time in the current term of the court that a justice was involved in a case where they had a personal stake in a company included in the litigation. According to financial disclosure reports, Roberts is one of three Supreme Court Justices who have stock interests in more than a dozen different companies.

Supreme Court spokesperson Kathy Arberg has stated that this conflict of interest should have been caught, and she attributed it to simple human error.

A similar instance also took place in October, when Justice Stephen Breyer heard arguments in an energy regulation case that featured a unit of Johnson Controls Inc. Breyer’s wife held stock in the company at the time of the ruling. The next day, she sold her holdings in the company.

However, neither of the two conflicts ultimately affected the outcome of their respective cases. Nevertheless, these oversights are supporting the arguments that justices should either be forced to relinquish their individual company holdings or to put them in blind trusts.

Executive director of Fix the Court Gabe Roth said, “The institution is in dire need of policy changes on recusals and stock ownership. Blind trusts would ensure these oversights do not continue to happen and that our most antiquated government body starts to comport with modern expectations of transparency. Chief Justice Roberts’s oversight, as well as Justice Breyer’s similar mistake in October, demonstrates that the Supreme Court’s current system of self-checking for conflicts isn’t working.”

The rules of the Supreme Court state that litigants must list all the parties involved in the case and that companies must disclose any publicly traded parent company. The chambers of the nine court justices each has its own system for ensuring that conflicts of interest do not occur. Justices are not allowed to participate in any case where they possess stock in a company that is involved in the case.

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