Associate Justice Clarence Thomas in a formal group photo at the Supreme Court in Washington, DC, US, on Friday, Oct. 7, 2022.
Eric Lee | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas accepted secret trips from Republican megadonor Harlan Crow for more than two decades as apparent violations of a financial disclosure law, a ProPublica reports announced Thursday.
Thomas vacationed on Crow’s 162-foot superyacht, flew on the real estate developer’s private jet and spent time at the GOP donor’s private resort and other exclusive retreats, ProPublica reported, citing documents and dozen- dozen interviews.
Thomas, the 74-year-old conservative associate justice who has served on the nation’s highest court since 1991, did not report the trips in his financial disclosures as required by law, the nonprofit chamber reported – rag.
The investigation offers more fuel for Thomas’ critics, who say her refusal to recuse herself from cases involving issues related to her husband’s political work in conservative circles – including his involvement in plots to subvert the 2020 election – poses a conflict of interest.
Ethics experts and former judges interviewed by ProPublica were incredulous. Thomas “seems to have completely ignored his higher ethical obligations,” Virginia Canter, chief ethics counsel at the watchdog group CREW, told the outlet.
“When a justice’s lifestyle is aided by the rich and famous, it really erodes public trust,” Canter said.
Spokesmen for the Supreme Court and Crow did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment on the investigation.
Harlan Crow, chairman and chief executive officer of Crow Holdings LLC, sits for a photo at the Old Parkland estate offices in Dallas, Texas, US, on Friday, Oct. 2, 2015.
Chris Goodney | Bloomberg | Getty Images
In a statement to ProPublica, Crow said, “The hospitality we’ve extended to the Thomases over the years is no different than the hospitality we’ve extended to many of our other dear friends.”
Thomas and his wife, Ginni Thomas, “never asked” for any of the gifts, or for any of the contributions the Crows made to projects celebrating the “life and legacy” of justice, the megadonor said . Crow added that he and his wife “have never inquired about a pending or inferior court case, and Justice Thomas has never discussed one, and we have never sought to influence Justice Thomas on any legal or political issue .”
Crow, a Texas real estate magnate, befriended Thomas after he joined the Supreme Court. He gave more than $10 million in publicly disclosed political donations, and unknown amounts to groups that are not required to disclose their donors, ProPublica reported.
Thomas typically spends about a week each summer at Topridge, Crow’s private lakeside resort in the Adirondacks, and flight records show he used Crow’s plane multiple times, according to the news outlet.
In 2019, shortly after the court shared its final opinion of the term, Clarence and Ginni Thomas boarded Crow’s private jet for a nine-day vacation to Indonesia aboard the donor’s yacht — a trip that cost more than $500,000 , according to ProPublica.
Supreme Court justices are constrained by fewer ethical restrictions than lower levels of the judiciary. Several groups have called for the implementation of a code of ethics for the high court.
But magistrates still submit financial disclosures, and experts say they are required to disclose all gifts worth more than $415. While there are exceptions to that requirement, transportation is not one of them.
“If Justice Thomas received free travel on private planes and yachts, not reporting the gifts would be a violation of the disclosure law,” Kedric Payne, senior ethics director for the Campaign Legal Center, told the outlet.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., later Thursday morning called for an “enforceable code of conduct” for Supreme Court justices as he criticized Thomas for the reported secret journey
“The highest court in the land should not be held to the lowest ethical standards,” Durbin said in response to the report. “This behavior is simply inconsistent with the ethical standards Americans expect of any public servant, let alone a Supreme Court Justice.”