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D.C. is full of people who made their names in government, then earned their fortunes after leaving it. by trading on their expertise. Neil Gorsuch did the opposite.
By Kyle Mullins, Forbes Staff
Neil Gorsuch likes to talk about how much he prefers the American West. At a 2019 event in California promoting his book, he remarked that he was “so happy to be west of the Mississippi, I can tell you.” His confirmation hearing featured stories about the largest trout he ever caught and where he learned to ski. And yet Gorsuch, the only sitting justice not born in the Northeast or South, has the East Coast to thank for his education, his early career and much of his estimated $8 million fortune.
A lucrative career in private practice helped Gorsuch build up plenty of savings before he got on the bench.
The son of two lawyers, born in 1967 in Denver, Gorsuch has alternated between his home state and the nation’s power centers, D.C. and New York, for decades. President Ronald Reagan tapped Gorsuch’s mother, Anne, to lead the Environmental Protection Agency in 1981, and the family moved to the East Coast. Her tenure lasted less than two years, but Neil made the most of it, attending the elite Georgetown Preparatory School—a couple of years behind Brett Kavanaugh, now his colleague on the court.
Gorsuch headed to Columbia University in 1985, where he studied political science and penned conservative opinions in two campus newspapers. Graduating in three years, he then went to Harvard Law, where one of his classmates was future president Barack Obama.
After graduating in 1991, Gorsuch alternated between the courts and academia, clerking on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court while also studying philosophy at Oxford University in England. He earned his doctorate, and met his future wife Marie Louise, across the pond.
Those years provided plenty of interesting experiences, but not a lot of money. Early in his marriage, Louise’s mother visited their “tiny” D.C. apartment and asked her daughter, within earshot of Gorsuch, whether he was “really a lawyer,” the justice later recalled. Money was on its way, though: Gorsuch joined Kellogg Hansen, a two-year-old D.C. firm founded by three other Harvard Law graduates, as an associate in 1995. Three years later, he was a partner. He and Louise upgraded to a $600,000 home in Virginia in 2000.
He stayed at the firm for a decade, and the money kept coming. Per Senate disclosure documents, Gorsuch earned $1.4 million in 2004 and $1.1 million in 2005, when he resigned his position at Kellogg Hansen to join the Department of Justice under George W. Bush. A year into that job, the president nominated Gorsuch to a judgeship on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Denver. In a May 2006 filing, he declared an overall net worth of $3.1 million. He sailed through the Senate and was confirmed in July.
Finally back in his native Colorado, Gorsuch sold his Virginia house for $1.3 million in 2006, more than double what he paid for it, and purchased a home outside Boulder for just over $1 million, borrowing $325,000. His new digs came with a deck, a patio, three acres and a stable. Lots of room for both family and critters: “We raised two girls along with chickens, a goat, horses, a rabbit, dogs, cats, mice and more in our home on the prairie,” Gorsuch wrote in a 2019 book.
His new job came with a steep pay cut to $175,000 a year, but Gorsuch received plenty of deferred compensation after leaving the firm: $700,000 in 2006, $77,000 in 2007 and a whopping $2.5 million in 2009. He found other ways to come up with spare change, teaching at the University of Colorado Law School for as much as $26,000 a year and cowriting a book with Kavanaugh and ten other appellate judges for $5,000 apiece.
Gorsuch saved plenty. By early 2017, he had piled up $4.1 million of diversified equities and bonds, the majority of his $6.7 million net worth.
That year, Trump picked him for the Supreme Court shortly after entering the White House, filling a seat that had opened up a year earlier when Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative firebrand, died suddenly. Frustrated that Republicans had refused to allow Obama to fill the seat during his final year in office, Democrats filibustered Gorsuch’s nomination, prompting Republican Mitch McConnell to change Senate rules and allow Gorsuch through on a 54-45 vote. The Coloradan was on the court by April, reestablishing its conservative majority.
He sold his Colorado home that year for more than $1.5 million, a nice premium on what he paid for it, and bought a 7,700-square-foot estate in Potomac, Maryland for $2 million. Additionally, a month after Gorsuch joined the Supreme Court, an LLC partially owned by Gorsuch sold a Colorado cabin for $1.85 million. On his 2017 disclosure, he reported the value of the sale as between $250,000 and $500,000 and did not disclose the buyer, a lawyer whose firm frequently has business in front of the court. Reportedly, his share of the sale—$400,000—was barely more than his initial investment in 2005.
Gorsuch’s salary rose from $218,000 to $252,000, and his promotion came with other money-making opportunities. Penguin Random House, which published a book that consisted of his writings and speeches with a splash of memoir thrown in, paid him $650,000 from 2018 to 2020. The next year, he signed another deal with HarperCollins for $250,000.
Not that Gorsuch, age 56, needs to worry much about his finances at this point. Even after sending his two daughters to college—both attended expensive, private institutions out West—his retirement accounts and liquid investments have likely swelled to more than $5 million by now. Tack on a $2.5 million home, and he is worth about $8 million. There’s a couple million more coming his way in 2032, when he becomes eligible for a Supreme Court pension that will pay him his full salary for life— regardless of whether he continues to work in the nation’s capital or returns home to the Colorado country.
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