By Li Zhouli@vox.com
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has accepted luxury trips from a major Republican donor — and failed to disclose them — for over two decades, according to a bombshell ProPublica report that was published in early April. A second ProPublica report revealed that the same donor’s company purchased a house and two vacant lots from Thomas, a financial exchange he also did not disclose. And a Washington Post investigation found Thomas has repeatedly claimed income from a real estate company that no longer exists.
Thomas’s lack of disclosure about these trips and property sales is a clear violation of government ethics law, according to legal experts. A mistake may be behind the issue with his income statements — a new company with a similar name was formed after the first’s dissolution. That error, however, is reflective of a pattern of shoddy adherence to disclosure rules that has Thomas and his commitment to ethical conduct under new scrutiny.
Federal judges, including Supreme Court justices, are required to disclose such gifts and transactions under the Ethics in Government Act, which establishes rules for federal officials regarding what’s acceptable. As detailed by the law, transportation gifts, and most real estate sales above $1,000, need to be disclosed.
The recent reports follow Thomas’s refusal to recuse himself from litigation related to the January 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection, even as his wife, Ginni Thomas, played a direct role in trying to overturn the 2020 election results. More broadly, they serve as reminders that Supreme Court justices face limited oversight or accountability — and have long refused to publicly engage with calls for stricter ethics rules.
In the past, lodging and food provided on someone’s property have been exempted from disclosure requirements, but transportation, which Thomas accepted, has not been. Per ProPublica, the “extent and frequency” of gifts that Thomas received from Republican megadonor Harlan Crow — which included flights on private jets and trips on luxury yachts — have “no known precedent in the modern history of the U.S. Supreme Court.” The property sales that Thomas made would also not be exempted from such laws.