An organization called the Campaign Legal Center is pushing for a look by the federal Justice Department at years and years of free hospitality that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has received from billionaire and GOP megadonor Harlan Crow. Those perks have included private jet and yacht trips, some of which would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars if Thomas obtained them himself.
The Campaign Legal Center asked for a federal body that deals with judicial policy to refer the matter of Thomas’s largely unreported travel to the federal Justice Department, pointing to issues like the longstanding precedent demanding disclosure of travel provided to federal judges like Thomas. There are also examples of Thomas reporting some hospitality like what he received from Crow over the years, suggesting he was aware of the need for disclosure under governing rules and just evaded the requirements.
Predictably, Crow claimed he didn’t raise relevant court cases with Thomas, but is there really a way to be sure of — or even trust — such a thing? That’s a problem with judges secretly obtaining quality benefits from whatever source: the potential that avenues for influence are opened, despite what is supposed to be the independence of the federal judicial process.
“Campaign Legal Center has sent a letter to the Judicial Conference requesting that it exercise its power under federal law to refer Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Attorney General for willfully failing to disclose gifts of free travel that he has received for over twenty years,” a statement from the Campaign Legal Center said. “If it is found that he intentionally violated the Ethics in Government Act (EIGA), Justice Thomas could face potential civil and criminal penalties.”
There are exemptions for reporting rules covering certain gifts provided on a personal basis, but the requirement is apparently longstanding for disclosing any travel. Recently outlined in a letter to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) were additional clarifications to rules and exemptions around disclosures, specifying that hospitality provided at commercial establishments or financially covered by third-parties — among other categories — be disclosed.
There have been a variety of proposals for dealing with corruption on the Supreme Court, including Thomas’s resignation, an expansion of the number of members, and a binding code of ethics like the rules that already bind other federal judges. Thomas has largely declined even to recuse, despite ties held by his wife, Ginni, to the push to overturn the 2020 election, which the court considered.