After a news report highlighted luxurious vacations Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas allegedly accepted from a wealthy friend, Thomas said he was advised he didn’t have to report the trips. In a new statement, Thomas denied any wrongdoing and vowed to follow new reporting requirements imposed on the federal judiciary.
Thomas’s critics in Congress promptly seized on the report last week of the vacations, suggesting it raised the appearance of impropriety.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) demanded that the justice be impeached, saying his actions evidenced an “almost cartoonish” level of corruption. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee’s panel on federal courts, called for an independent investigation of the justice, who has long been a target of the left.
Whitehouse and other critics also say that justices whose spouses are involved in political activism, like Thomas, whose wife, Ginni Thomas, a supporter of former President Donald Trump, is active in conservative politics, should have to recuse themselves from involvement in cases related to that activism. Despite pressure, the justice declined to recuse himself from the various challenges to the disputed 2020 presidential election that made it to the Supreme Court.
Billionaire businessman and Republican Party donor Harlan Crow, who made the gifts to Thomas, has reportedly not had any business before the Supreme Court, so any allegation of a conflict of interest rests on weak grounds.
Nor is it clear if Thomas violated the judicial ethics code by not declaring the vacations. Legal experts say the code does not apply to the Supreme Court. The court has said in the past that the justices voluntarily adhere to the ethics guidelines.
Crow reportedly said the trips with Thomas and his wife were “no different from the hospitality that we have extended to many other dear friends.”
“Justice Thomas and Ginni never asked for any of this hospitality,” he said.
Details of the vacations appeared in an April 6 article published by ProPublica, a left-wing nonprofit funded by the preeminent Democratic Party donor, financier George Soros, through his Foundation to Promote Open Society. Soros has been criticized by conservatives for funding the election campaigns of various district attorneys who are soft on crime.
The ProPublica article says that Thomas has accepted luxury trips almost every year over the past two decades without publicly disclosing them. “The extent and frequency of Crow’s apparent gifts to Thomas have no known precedent in the modern history of the U.S. Supreme Court,” according to the article.
Thomas said in a statement released by the Supreme Court’s public information office on April 7 that Harlan Crow, and his wife, Kathy Crow, have been friends with Thomas and his wife “for over twenty-five years.”
“As friends do, we have joined them on a number of family trips during the more than quarter century we have known them,” the justice said.
“Early in my tenure at the Court, I sought guidance from my colleagues and others in the judiciary, and was advised that this sort of personal hospitality from close personal friends, who did not have business before the Court, was not reportable.
“I have endeavored to follow that counsel throughout my tenure, and have always sought to comply with the disclosure guidelines. These guidelines are now being changed, as the committee of the Judicial Conference responsible for financial disclosure for the entire federal judiciary just this past month announced new guidance.
“And, it is, of course, my intent to follow this guidance in the future,” Thomas said.
The justice’s comments came a week after it was reported that a committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States, the policymaking body for the federal courts, issued new regulations requiring members of the federal judiciary to provide more information about hospitality, gifts, and benefits they receive from outside sources.
Supreme Court justices have said they voluntarily comply with the official code of conduct, but it is not clear that they are required to do so. Although they are members of the federal judiciary, they enjoy a level of independence that the rest of the federal judiciary does not. This is because the Supreme Court enjoys a special status because it was created by the U.S. Constitution, as opposed to Congress. Legal experts say this means that only the Supreme Court can regulate the Supreme Court.
It is a problem that the Judicial Conference was created by Congress, not the Supreme Court, legal experts previously told The Epoch Times.
Attorney J. Christian Adams, president of the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF), said he doubts the new ethics regulations apply to the Supreme Court.
“I think there is a fair chance they are unconstitutional,” Adams said.
“The Constitution does not give Congress the power to regulate the Supreme Court’s behavior,” he said.
Veteran Supreme Court observer Curt Levey, president of the conservative Committee for Justice, also questioned the ability of the Judicial Conference to regulate the conduct of Supreme Court justices.
“The Supreme Court can voluntarily follow this, but they certainly don’t have the right to impose it on them,” Levey said.
The Epoch Times has reached out to Whitehouse’s communications director, Meaghan McCabe, for comment.
From The Epoch Times