By Stacy M. Brown
Conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has acknowledged previously undisclosed travel expenses paid for by billionaire associate Harlan Crow. Thomas’ most recent annual financial disclosure report on Thursday included this information.
In 2022, Crow facilitated several trips for Thomas, including a May visit to a conservative conference in Dallas. Thomas was a featured speaker at an event held at a venue owned by Crow’s real estate firm. Crow also arranged for Thomas’ return flight from Dallas in February after an unexpected ice storm disrupted travel.
The report also mentions a vacation to the Adirondacks in New York State in July 2022, which Crow again funded.
Thomas said he used a private jet for his trip because of security concerns caused by the leaked draft opinion on the Roe v. Wade case. Attorney Elliot Berke, who helped with the report, said that after carefully reviewing Thomas’ records, they found no intentional ethical violations. Any mistakes in previous reports were accidental.
The context for this disclosure was a series of criticisms aimed at Supreme Court justices for alleged ethical violations, deriving from a ProPublica exposé detailing Thomas’ acceptance of luxurious trips from Crow, a prominent Republican donor. In Thomas’ previous financial reports, these visits were not disclosed.
Before the first ProPublica article about Thomas, officials changed the disclosure regulations in March. The changes require disclosing private aircraft travel and staying at privately owned resorts. The U.S. Judicial Conference, the judiciary’s policymaking body, is responsible for oversight of judicial ethics.
Justice Thomas and his conservative colleague, Justice Samuel Alito, asserted they utilized a legally permissible postponement to submit their annual reports. The reports, typically due in May and released the following month, were delayed.
Alito’s report included information about travels financed by Duke Law School and Notre Dame Law School, with the latter involving a stay in Rome.
The remaining seven justices upheld the standard practice of submitting their annual financial disclosures, which included their income, assets, gifts, and stock holdings. Justices may request an extension of up to 90 days to meet this requirement.
In response to these revelations, Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have urged the Supreme Court to implement new ethical guidelines.
Thomas justified Crow’s gifts as “personal hospitality,” a classification that did not require disclosure under the previous regulations. His recent report elaborated on this viewpoint in a section detailing his methodology.
Additionally, the report addressed Crow’s acquisition of Thomas’ family-owned real estate in Savannah, a transaction that ProPublica initially revealed. According to reports, Crow reportedly acquired several properties, including sites on the same street, for $133,000. In one of the homes, Thomas’ mother resided. The report clarified that Thomas’ loss on the transaction resulted from his prior investment of up to $75,000 in his mother’s property. As a financial setback, Thomas said he had neglected to report the sale.
In previous submissions, Thomas omitted the disclosure of bank accounts and other reportable financial matters held by his conservative political activist wife, Ginni Thomas, according to the report.
An August 2023 ProPublica report exposed that Justice Thomas received a minimum of 38 destination vacations, 26 private jet flights, numerous VIP passes to sporting events, and two lavish resort stays, all financed by billionaire backers, during his tenure on the bench. ProPublica reported that Thomas, typically “perched in the skybox at sporting events, had at least two stays at luxury resorts in Florida and Jamaica; and one standing invitation to an uber-exclusive golf club overlooking the Atlantic coast.
“This accounting of Thomas’ travel, revealed for the first time here from an array of previously unavailable information, is the fullest to date of the generosity that has regularly afforded Thomas a lifestyle far beyond what his income could provide. And it is almost certainly an undercount,” the report asserted.
“While some of the hospitality, such as stays in personal homes, may not have required disclosure, Thomas appears to have violated the law by failing to disclose flights, yacht cruises, and expensive sports tickets, according to ethics experts.”
Democrats and ethics experts assailed the justice for his undisclosed trips and gifts.
“Justice Thomas has brought shame upon himself and the United States Supreme Court with his acceptance of massive, repeated, and undisclosed gifts,” Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) wrote on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. “No government official, elected or unelected, could ethically or legally accept gifts of that scale. He should resign immediately.”
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