WASHINGTON (CN) — Justice Clarence Thomas filed his financial disclosure forms on Thursday, reporting private jet flights gifted to him by billionaire GOP donor Harlan Crow.
The Bush appointee said Crow footed the bill for flights on three occasions in 2022. According to the disclosure forms, Crow paid for Thomas’ return flight and meal after a keynote speech at the American Enterprise Institute’s Conference at Old Parkland in Dallas, Texas, in February last year. Thomas notes he flew private on the return trip due to an ice storm.
When Thomas spoke at the same conference in May of that year, Crow also footed the bill for his transportation and food. Thomas claims this flight was necessary because of security concerns after the Supreme Court's opinion overturning Roe v. Wade was leaked. A few months later in July, Crow paid for Thomas’ transportation, meals and lodging to Keese Mill, New York. Thomas said he was a guest of Crow on this trip.
Although Thomas reported his gifted trips from 2022, he did not amend any previous disclosure forms to reflect any flights or trips in previous years. Thomas provided an explanation for these lapses, claiming new travel disclosure requirements adopted in 2022 prompted him to report flights he received. Thomas also said he was reporting new personal bank accounts and his wife’s life insurance that he “inadvertently omitted” from prior reports.
Thomas said he worked with the Supreme Court’s legal office, counselor to the chief justice, staff of the Judicial Conference Financial Disclosure Committee and personal counsel to comply with reporting laws. Thomas said he would continue to work with these groups to see if past reports needed to be amended.
Justice Samuel Alito also filed his disclosure forms on Thursday, reporting reimbursements on teaching trips to Italy and North Carolina. Duke Law School paid for Alito’s lodging and meals, while Notre Dame Law School paid for his transportation, lodging and meals.
The two conservative justices were outliers among their peers, who filed their financial disclosure reports in June, the deadline for the justices’ yearly filings. The filings detail the justices’ earnings, assets, gifts and stock holdings, important indicators for any conflicts of interest with the justices’ work on the high court bench.
Recently, the justices’ disclosures — or lack thereof — have come under scrutiny not for what they contain, but for what they don’t.
In April, ProPublica revealed Thomas’ connections to Crow. The reporting alleges that Crow treated Thomas to dozens of luxury vacations that were never recorded on the conservative justice’s filings. Thomas also accepted trips on Crow’s private jet.
The trips totaled hundreds of thousands of dollars — well above the gift reporting requirement of over $415. ProPublica subsequently revealed a six-figure real estate sale between the two in 2013 that was also left off of disclosure reports. In May, reporting showed that Crow funded Thomas’ grandnephew’s private school education.
Thomas addressed the real estate deal in his 2022 disclosures, acknowledging it was a mistake not to disclose it but claiming the sale amounted to a capital loss.
Crow is not the only billionaire to offer Thomas a lavish lifestyle free of charge. ProPublica reported that other powerful executives have funded the justice’s vacations and airfare over the years.
Thomas’ disclosure lapses have taken center stage in the conversation over high court ethics; however, he is not the only justice to have potentially violated federal law. Alito accepted a luxury fishing trip to Alaska from a billionaire GOP donor with business before the court.
Unlike Thomas — who has mostly been quiet in the face of these allegations — Alito took to the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal to defend himself. Alito claimed his use of the billionaire’s private jet was above board because there was an empty seat he occupied that was not going to be used by anyone else and he barely knew the jet’s owner, who paid for the trip.
Reporting from the Associated Press put Justice Sonia Sotomayor in the hot seat over the use of her taxpayer-funded staff to boost the justice’s book sales. That investigation also found the wide use of lucrative summer teaching stints utilized by many of the court’s members.Follow @KelseyReichmann
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