Friday, September 22, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Friday, September 22, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Thomas says other justices advised against reporting luxury vacations footed by GOP megadonor

Scrutiny on the court as a whole is growing amid evidence that Justice Thomas secretly collected hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of gifts for decades.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Responding to blockbuster allegations that he violated federal disclosure requirements by not reporting luxury trips from a Republican megadonor, Justice Clarence Thomas claimed Friday that his conduct followed the advice of his fellow justices. 

Thomas called the donor, Dallas-based real estate mogul Harlan Crow, and Crow's wife longtime friends of his and admits to taking trips with the couple for over two decades. The George H.W. Bush appointee claims to have consulted other justices early in his tenure over whether the Crow’s hospitality needed to be reported. 

“Early in my tenure at the Court, I sought guidance from my colleagues and others in the judiciary, and was advised that this sort of personal hospitality from close personal friends, who did not have business before the Court, was not reportable,” Thomas wrote in the statement on Friday released by the court’s public information office.

The court did not respond to questions regarding which justices or other members of the judiciary Thomas consulted. 

Thomas said he always sought to comply with disclosure laws that require judges to report all gifts over $415. Reporting from ProPublica revealed Thursday that just one of Thomas’ vacations footed by Crow in 2019 would have cost over $500,000. Thomas did not report the excursion. 

“I have endeavored to follow that counsel throughout my tenure, and have always sought to comply with the disclosure guidelines,” Thomas wrote. 

Back in 2004, the Los Angeles Times chronicled gifts from Crow to Thomas, including a $19,000 Bible owned by Frederick Douglass and a $15,000 bust of President Lincoln. Thomas disclosed these gifts along with a trip on Crow’s private jet that year. Since then, however, Thomas has failed to disclose Crow’s gifts.

Noting recent changes to disclosure requirements for the judiciary, Thomas said his intention is to comply with the new guidance moving forward. 

“These guidelines are now being changed, as the committee of the Judicial Conference responsible for financial disclosure for the entire federal judiciary just this past month announced new guidance,” Thomas wrote. “And, it is, of course, my intent to follow this guidance in the future.” 

Thomas allegedly chartered Crow’s Bombardier Global 5000 jet to take private trips. Despite his claims of preferring vacations at RV parks and Walmart parking lots, reporting found that the conservative justice took yearly trips with Crow, sometimes island-hopping on a 162-foot yacht. Thomas also allegedly spends a week during the summer at Crow’s private resort in the Adirondacks. 

Thomas was already a justice on the nation’s highest court when he met Crow. There is no allegation that Crow had any direct business before the court while Thomas has been on the bench. Crow did, however, contribute $500,000 to the lobbying group of Ginni Thomas, the justice's wife. 

Thomas’ friendship and gifted vacations from Crow are alleged to have put him in contact with people like Leonard Leo, the Federalist Society leader. Thomas, Crow and Leo are pictured in a realistic painting in Crow’s Adirondacks estate. The painting also features Peter Rutledge and Mark Paoletta. 

Legal experts said Thomas’ failure to disclose Crow’s generosity may have violated the law, however, it's not clear the consequences he would face for doing so. 

This is not the first time Thomas has been at the center of discussions around the high court’s ethics conflicts. The justices — unlike other judges — are not bound by an ethics code but are said to “consult” the guidance instead. Last year, his wife’s connections to efforts to overturn the 2020 election results turned heads. The Thomases have said they do not discuss cases before the court. Justice Thomas was, however, a dissenting vote when legal challenges to the election landed at the Supreme Court.

Follow @KelseyReichmann
Categories / Courts, National, Politics

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.