Complaints and calls for action erupted in response to a blockbuster report by ProPublica that revealed that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas accepted without disclosing luxury trips and a political group run by his wife received contributions, potentially valued at more than a million dollars over more than two decades from a Republican mega-donor.
Harlan Crow, a Dallas-based real estate developer who has donated millions to conservative causes, reportedly paid for Thomas to join various vacations, including trips on the billionaire’s private jet and 162-foot yacht.
ProPublica’s investigation found that Thomas spent about a week nearly every summer at Crow’s resort in the Adirondacks, in addition to other vacations around the globe. These costs, which spanned hundreds of thousands of dollars, were reportedly covered by Crow, but those trips were never disclosed on Thomas’s financial disclosures.
Democrats latched onto the report to raise calls for more scrutiny of the conservative justice.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin said that his committee “will act” following the report.
Durbin said, “The highest court in the land shouldn’t have the lowest ethical standards. Today’s ProPublica report reveals that Justice Thomas has for years accepted luxury travel on private yachts and jets and a litany of other gifts that he failed to disclose. This behavior is simply inconsistent with the ethical standards the American people expect of any public servant, let alone a Justice on the Supreme Court.”
US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse tweeted, “This secrecy is toxic and wrong. The Court should not protect it any longer, and the Judicial Conference should look diligently and with urgency into this mess of front group briefs.”
Progressive New Jersey activist Lisa McCormick, who has repeatedly called on Congress to “outlaw bribery” in light of judicial verdicts and rule changes that have eroded the integrity of American government, said she believes that “the gifts and hospitality showered on a Supreme Court Justice by a billionaire mega-donor amount to nothing more than bribes.”
Crow has given over $10 million in publicly disclosed political contributions, but it is not known how much he has given to dark money groups that do not disclose donors.
“Thomas’s trips appeared to violate the rules for gift disclosure that Supreme Court justices and other top government officials are required to file annually under a federal law passed in the wake of the Watergate scandal,” said McCormick. “As a longtime advocate for not only full-disclosure but an absolute ban on private funding campaign or gifts and other enticements for government officials, I am extremely disappointed that a member of the highest court is breaking the law and accepting what appear to be nothing less than bribes.”
US Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called for Thomas to be impeached, while US Senator Elizabeth Warren tweeted, “The American people deserve a federal judiciary that is accountable to the rule of law, not wealthy Republican donors.”
Progressive judicial watchdogs joined the condemnations, renewing their calls for strengthened ethics rules and oversight at the high court.
The federal judiciary’s policy-making body last month quietly adopted stricter gift disclosure requirements that clarified a “personal hospitality” exception does not apply to gifts at commercial properties. The exception only applies to food, lodging, or entertainment gifts provided by someone with a personal relationship with the justice in a non-business context.
“Supreme Court justices have some of the least strict ethics rules of any public officials, and Clarence Thomas can’t even meet that extremely low bar,” said Sarah Lipton-Lubet, president of Take Back the Court Action Fund. “If he can’t be trusted to follow even the most basic rules of conduct, how can anyone trust him to interpret the most important laws of the land?”
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