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Justices shed stocks in 2007

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, whose investments forced them to sit out cases before the Supreme Court, have significantly reduced their stock holdings, their latest financial disclosures show.

Roberts sold all his shares in four companies last year – Becton Dickinson & Co., Cisco Systems, Citigroup and Merck & Co. – worth $117,000 to $265,000.

Alito sold all his stock in Intel, worth $15,000 to $50,000, and reduced his holdings in three other companies, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Exxon Mobil and McDonald's. The information was contained in the justices' annual report on their finances, released Friday.

It was not clear whether the justices took advantage of a recent change in federal law that allows them to defer paying taxes on capital gains by reinvesting the proceeds in mutual funds, government bonds or other investments.

Justice Stephen Breyer, who also has had to step aside from cases at the court because of his investments, sold some stock as well, but retains shares in dozens of companies and did not appear to alter his investment pattern.

The issue of investments arose most recently last month when the court could not muster enough justices to consider whether to intervene in a case.

Alito, Breyer and Roberts all have investments in companies that were asking the court to kill a lawsuit alleging that the companies aided South Africa's former apartheid government. Federal law calls for at least six of the nine justices to hear any case, but only five were eligible for this one. Justice Anthony Kennedy also did not participate because his son works for one of the companies being sued.

Roberts was able to engage in two cases that he initially stayed out of because of the stock sales.

Alito, though he sold $100,000 to $250,000 in Exxon Mobil stock last year, retains shares valued in the same range. He is not taking part in the court's consideration of the $2.5 billion punitive damages judgment against the company for the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska in 1989.