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Thursday, June 6, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Justices’ gifts add up: Report reveals $3 million in handouts 

Justice Clarence Thomas accepted over twice as many gifts as any of his colleagues according to the report.

WASHINGTON (CN) — A report released Thursday puts numbers to the Supreme Court’s ethics scandals, finding that the justices have received over 300 gifts worth $3 million in the last 20 years. 

Judiciary watchdog Fix the Court unveiled a detailed account of the value of the gifts that ignited calls for ethics reform at the court. 

"Supreme Court justices should not be accepting gifts, let alone the hundreds of freebies worth millions of dollars they've received over the years," Gabe Roth, executive director at Fix the Court, said in a statement. "Public servants who make four times the median local salary, and who can make millions writing books on any topic they like, can afford to pay for their own vacations, vehicles, hunting excursions and club memberships — to say nothing of the influence the gift-givers are buying with their 'generosity.'”

From January 2004 to December 2023, the nine justices accepted 344 gifts valued at almost $3 million. That total grows to over $4.7 million when adding in 202 additional gifts accepted by the eight justices who have left the court since 2004. 

Justice Clarence Thomas has accepted over twice as many gifts as any other justice, with a total of 103 gifts totaling $2,402,310. Fix the Court identified an additional 101 gifts the George H.W. Bush appointee likely received based on news reporting. The additional $1.7 million in gifts brings Thomas’ gift total to over $4 million. 

Thomas’ trips on private jets, detailed in reporting from ProPublica, were among the most expensive gifts he accepted. In 2004, the Bush appointee flew on Wayne Huizenga’s personal 737 for two trips to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. The flights from the billionaire who founded Waste Management and Blockbuster were worth $130,000 each. 

In 2007, real estate mogul Harlan Crow paid for a $160,000 yacht cruise Thomas took around the Greek Islands. The next year, health care executive Anthony Welters paid $253,686,the balance on Thomas’ RV loan. Welters also paid for Thomas’ roundtrip flight to Trinidad in 2010, which was worth $97,666. 

Thomas’ most expensive gifts were trips to Bohemian Grove. ProPublica confirmed six of these visits worth almost $300,000. Reporting suggested that Thomas was a regular guest of Crow’s at the exclusive club for over two decades, adding $997,500 in likely gifts to his total. 

Only 8.5% of the gifts noted by Fix the Court were reported in Thomas’ financial disclosure forms. 

Fix the Court only found two justices that reported 100% of gifts they received. Justice David Souter, who left the court in 2009, accepted one gift worth $349. Justice John Paul Stevens, who left the court in 2010, received over 20 gifts totaling $91,408. 

Justice Antonin Scalia came in second in total gifts received, with over $210,000. 

Airfare was a common theme among many of the justices. Justice Samuel Alito — whose $170,095 total landed him in third — received private flights from wealthy GOP donor Robin Arkley and hedge fund manager Paul Singer worth over $150,000 in 2008. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg — who accepted over $59,000 in gifts — accepted an $8,220 flight from the Supreme Court of Korea.

Chief Justice John Roberts accepted over $49,000 in gifts including honorary memberships to clubs. Justice Sonia Sotomayor received almost $16,000 worth of gifts, and Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson received almost $9,000 in gifts. 

The Donald Trump appointees rounded up the least in gifts. Justice Neil Gorsuch received $2,450, Justice Amy Coney Barrett received $500 and Justice Brett Kavanaugh received only $100. 

Fix the Court’s report comes one day before the expected release of additional financial disclosure reports from the court. 

Roth said the ethics crisis at the court wouldn’t cool until the justices adopted stricter rules for accepting gifts. 

The justices signed on to an ethics code last year, agreeing to comply with gift regulations. The justices can accept reasonable compensation and reimbursement of expenses for permitted activities. Gifts over a designated amount — $480 in 2023 — have to be reported on financial disclosures. 

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

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