Justices are required to report all gifts of $415 or more that are “anything of value” and not fully reimbursed. There’s no record of Thomas reporting the gifts or reimbursing anyone for the trips.
By Stacy M. Brown
NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
For more than two decades, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has accepted luxury trips virtually every year from Dallas businessman and Republican mega donor Harlan Crow without disclosing them, a bombshell new report from ProPublica has revealed.
Citing documents and interviews, the nonprofit and Pulitzer Prize winning legal news organization said Thomas who has a salary of $285,000, has vacationed on Crow’s superyacht around the globe.
Had Thomas footed the bill himself, one trip on Crow’s yacht would have set him back a cool half-million dollars.
What’s more, the controversial conservative justice often flies on Crow’s Bombardier Global 5000 jet. That’s a $70,000 trip.
Justices are required to report all gifts of $415 or more that are “anything of value” and not fully reimbursed.
There’s no record of Thomas reporting the gifts or reimbursing anyone for the trips.
“He has gone with Crow to the Bohemian Grove, the exclusive California all-male retreat, and to Crow’s sprawling ranch in East Texas,” the legal news site reported on Thursday, April 6.
“And Thomas typically spends about a week every summer at Crow’s private resort in the Adirondacks.”
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, and ProPublica further notes that the trips appeared nowhere on Thomas’ financial disclosures.
“His failure to report the flights appears to violate a law passed after Watergate that requires justices, judges, members of Congress and federal officials to disclose most gifts,” the site reported, citing two ethics law experts.
Thomas, the experts said, also should have disclosed his trips on the yacht.
“It’s incomprehensible to me that someone would do this,” Nancy Gertner, a retired federal judge appointed by President Bill Clinton, told ProPublica.
When she was on the bench, Gertner said, she was so cautious about appearances that she wouldn’t mention her title when making dinner reservations: “It was a question of not wanting to use the office for anything other than what it was intended.”
Virginia Canter, a former government ethics lawyer who served in administrations of both parties, said Thomas “seems to have completely disregarded his higher ethical obligations.”
“When a justice’s lifestyle is being subsidized by the rich and famous, it absolutely corrodes public trust,” said Canter, now at the watchdog group CREW.
“Quite frankly, it makes my heart sink.”
As ProPublica noted, federal judges sit in a unique position of public trust.
Each justice enjoys lifetime tenure, which is supposed to inoculate them from feeling any temptation toward corruption.
Intentionally, a code of conduct for federal judges below the Supreme Court requires them to avoid even the “appearance of impropriety.”
Members of the high court, Chief Justice John Roberts has written, “consult” that code for guidance.
However, the Supreme Court is left almost entirely to police itself.
And many opine that Thomas has exploited that privilege and, along with his wife Ginny, have thumbed their noses at Democracy.
“The most glaring example of the Supreme Court’s ethical vacuum is Clarence Thomas,” political columnist Jonathan Chait wrote for New York Magazine.
“The right-wing justice has operated, in conjunction with his wife, in the center of a network of conservative activists whose project is indistinguishable from his legal work.”
Meanwhile, ProPublica reported evidence that Thomas has taken even more trips on the superyacht.
The report noted that Crow often gave his guests custom polo shirts commemorating their vacations.
ProPublica found photographs of Thomas wearing at least two of those shirts.
In one, he wears a blue polo shirt embroidered with the Michaela Rose’s logo and the words “March 2007” and “Greek Islands.”
“Thomas didn’t report any of the trips ProPublica identified on his annual financial disclosures,” the outlet noted.
“Ethics experts said the law clearly requires disclosure for private jet flights and Thomas appears to have violated it.”