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Tuesday, June 25, 2024 | Back issues
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Justice Thomas failed to report additional private jet trips on financial disclosure docs, Senate Judiciary says

The revelations come after billionaire real-estate mogul Harlan Crow reached an agreement with lawmakers to turn over seven years of financial documents related to his relationship with the Supreme Court jurist.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas took three trips on conservative billionaire Harlan Crow’s private jet that have so far gone unreported on the jurist’s financial disclosure documents, Senate Democrats said Thursday.

The Senate Judiciary Committee uncovered these plane trips, which occurred between 2017 and 2021, as they reviewed documents Crow provided as part of an agreement to hand over nearly a decade of information related to his relationship with Justice Thomas. The revelations come shortly after Democrats on the panel authorized a pair of subpoenas for Crow and Federalist Society founder Leonard Leo.

The trio of private jet trips did not appear on Thomas’ recently released financial disclosure report — although Thomas did amend his 2019 disclosure to reflect two other trips bankrolled by Crow.

“As a result of our investigation and subpoena authorization, we are providing the American public greater clarity on the extend of ethical lapses by Supreme Court justices and the need for ethics reform,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, a Democrat, said in a statement Thursday.

According to redacted documents published by the committee, the three unreported trips Justice Thomas took on Crow’s private plane included travel to Kalispell, Montana, from St. Louis in May 2017; a trip to Savannah, Georgia, from D.C. in March 2019; and a third to San Jose, California, from the nation’s capital in June 2021.

“The Senate Judiciary Committee’s ongoing investigation into the Supreme Court’s ethical crisis is producing new information — like what we’ve revealed today — and makes it crystal clear that the highest court needs an enforceable code of conduct,” Durbin said. “Its members continue to choose not to meet the moment.”

Thursday’s revelations came to light just a day after Republicans spiked an attempt to pass Supreme Court ethics legislation on the Senate floor. Led by South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, GOP lawmakers blocked Democrats from approving the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal and Transparency Act on a procedural mechanism known as unanimous consent.

The legislation — sponsored by Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat — would, among other things, force the high court to draft a binding code of ethics in the public eye.

At the time, Democrats said that while they’d been momentarily stymied by Republicans, they would keep working to pass Supreme Court ethics reform.

On Thursday, Durbin doubled down on that pledge.

“Chief Justice [John] Roberts still refuses to use his existing authority to implement an enforceable code of conduct,” said the Judiciary Committee chairman. “Until he acts, we will continue our push for the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal and Transparency Act to become law.”

In a statement provided to Courthouse News, a spokesperson for Crow acknowledged that the real estate magnate had reached an agreement with the Judiciary Committee to provide seven years of information about his relationship with Justice Thomas.

“Despite his serious and continued concerns about the legality and necessity of the inquiry, Mr. Crow engaged in good faith negotiations with the Committee from the beginning to resolve the matter,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson added that, as a condition of the agreement, the Judiciary Committee has agreed to drop its probe into Crow.

Reports began to emerge last year that Thomas had failed to disclose trips and other gifts paid for by Crow, kickstarting a yearlong debate about ethical malfeasance on the Supreme Court. Responding to criticism from lawmakers, the high court last year unveiled a first-ever ethics code for the justices — but experts point out that the standards lack a clear enforcement mechanism.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

Follow @BenjaminSWeiss
Categories / Courts, Government, National, Politics

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