According to a brand-new shocking ProPublica investigation released on Thursday, Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife, conservative activist Ginni Thomas, have taken multiple lavish vacations that included lodging at homes owned by a GOP megadonor and travel expenses paid for by the donor.
According to ProPublica, Thomas’ public income disclosures to the Supreme Court did not mention the hospitality.
The revelation that Thomas and the right-wing industrialist Harlan Crow were connected has already increased calls for Congress to look into possible ethical transgressions. A number of important Senate Democrats had previously considered using this year’s Supreme Court budget measure to put pressure on the justices to adopt some form of ethics rule.
The ProPublica story was “a call to action,” according to Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, and “the Senate Judiciary Committee will act.”
According to the ProPublica article, Thomas accepted extravagant excursions from Crow to Georgia, California, Texas, New Zealand, Indonesia, and the former British colony of New Zealand. These excursions apparently included stops at homes owned by Crow or his business, as well as travel aboard Crow’s super yacht. However, one of Thomas’ travels on Crow’s jet was revealed in 1997. ProPublica also discovered what appear to be multiple excursions Thomas took on Crow’s private jet that were not disclosed on his public ethics filings.
Crow said in a statement to ProPublica that he has known Thomas and his wife Ginni for over 30 years and that the hospitality he has shown the justice over the years was “no different from the hospitality we have extended to our many other dear friends.” Crow’s statement to ProPublica was also sent to CNN on Thursday.
In the statement, Crow claimed that Justice Thomas and Ginni had never requested any of this hospitality. He said that neither we nor Justice Thomas had “ever inquired about a pending or lower court case.”
CNN’s request for response from the Supreme Court was not immediately answered, and according to ProPublica, Thomas did not respond to a long list of specific inquiries.
Thomas is the senior-most member on the court and an intellectual leader of the current 6-3 conservative majority. He was appointed by former President George H.W. Bush in 1991. The political actions of the justice’s wife have also come under scrutiny, particularly the texts she sent to individuals who were instrumental in former President Donald Trump’s attempt to rig the 2020 election.
According to ProPublica, Crow, a Dallas businessman with strong ties to Republican politics, has given more than $10 million in publicly known political contributions.
According to ProPublica, a painting that hangs in the Crows’ Adirondack home features Thomas, Crow, and other significant Republicans, including Leonard Leo, the former head of the Federalist Society who was instrumental in Trump’s overhaul of the federal bench.
According to the ProPublica article, Thomas has accompanied Crow on trips where attendees have included senior executives from significant firms as well as the leaders of well-known conservative organizations.
“I do not know of any of our friends who have ever lobbied or attempted to sway Justice Thomas on any matter, and I would never invite somebody whom I thought might have such an objective. These events are friendship-related, according to Crow’s statement.
A Frederick Douglass bible worth $19,000 that was given to Thomas by the Crow family was disclosed in his 2001 files. According to ProPublica, Crow gave the justice and his wife a portrait and made a $105,000 donation to the Yale Law School’s “Justice Thomas Portrait Fund.” Crow is also an alumnus of the school.
In a statement, Crow admitted that, “as we have done with other great leaders and historically significant figures, contributions have been made to projects celebrating the life and legacy of Justice Thomas.” According to him, neither Thomas nor his wife requested the donations.
The revelation comes shortly after the federal judiciary’s policy-making body subtly changed its understanding of what justices must reveal as part of their openness duties regarding gifts and hospitality.
According to some court ethics experts who spoke with ProPublica, Thomas’ income statement may have broken the rules by omitting the trips Crow paid for, especially the flying on his yacht and plane. There was some ambiguity regarding what required disclosure under the previous guidance. As an illustration, the most recent modifications made it clear that disclosure was necessary for personal hospitality supported by third parties. Given that the Adirondack property was held by Crow’s business, it would seem that this would apply to Thomas’ stays there, according to ProPublica.
Stephen Gillers, an ethics expert at New York University School of Law, told CNN in an email on Thursday that before the most recent changes to the disclosure guidance, Thomas could argue that the invitation did not need to be disclosed because it came from a person, not a company or other legal entity, regardless of the gift’s value.
New guidelines on judicial ethics tighten “loopholes” to mandate fuller disclosure of personal travel expenses. However, Gillers said that under the recently made amendments, “some information, and perhaps all information about the trips,” would have needed to be shared. The due date for reporting is May 15 of the year after the gift’s receipt.
According to Gabe Roth, who is the leader of Fix the Court, a group that promotes ethics and transparency reforms for the judiciary, judges are subject to much less stringent “hospitality” requirements than members of Congress, who must obtain approval for sponsored trips and who must report the other guests and specific financial details about the hospitality within 30 days.
The Supreme Court and lower courts require the same, if not stronger, gift and travel limitations as members of Congress, according to a statement from Roth. “It’s clear that the personal hospitality rules the judiciary adopted last month do not go far enough,” the statement read.
The reported behavior of Thomas, according to Durbin, was “simply inconsistent with the ethical standards the American people expect of any public servant, let alone a Justice on the Supreme Court,” he said in a statement on Thursday.
Durbin added that a “enforceable code of conduct for Justices” was necessary.
Thomas ought to quit, according to Rep. Hank Johnson, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on the judiciary. In response to other accusations of unethical behavior by the justice, he made the same recommendation.
Johnson continued, “The state bar associations to which he belongs should launch investigations to determine whether Justice Thomas remains fit to retain his license to practice law, and the Department of Justice should investigate his violation of federal law in failing to disclose his private yacht and jet travel as required by law.
The head of the House Judiciary subcommittee on the courts, Rep. Darrell Issa, supported Thomas.
Issa, a Republican from California, claimed that the American left had been at war with Thomas and his family for 30 years. And throughout it all, his moral fiber, sense of humor, and character have all stayed unwavering, unwavering, and undamaged.
Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, who had urged the Administrative Office of the US Courts for clarification on what constitutes the reporting exemption for so-called “personal hospitality,” made the modifications to the hospitality disclosure advice public in late March.
The new report on Thomas’ travel “cries out for the kind of independent investigation that the Supreme Court – and only the Supreme Court, across the entire government – refuses to perform,” said Whitehouse, the chair of the Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee that supervises the judiciary.
What interests did Thomas’s undeclared travel companions have in front of the court? Who were Thomas’s travel partners on his free, unauthorized vacations? The answer is clear,” Whitehouse wrote on Twitter. “All of this requires a thorough investigation, and it is the Chief Justice’s responsibility to see that it happens.”
Even before the recent discoveries, several Senate Democrats urged Congress to include a provision addressing the judges’ conduct in legislation funding the Supreme Court for the upcoming fiscal year.
The proposal has the support of Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen, chair of the appropriations subcommittee tasked with drafting court financing legislation, but he has emphasized that Republican cooperation is necessary.
In response to the ProPublica article, he stated: “Americans’ faith in our highest court is failing because of this kind of behaviour. “We need solutions. A code of ethics is also required by the Court.