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Under ethics scrutiny, Justice Thomas delays financial disclosure

The conservative justice will have until the fall to submit a report that could for the first time note gifts from the conservative megadonor Harlan Crow.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Accused of violating ethics guidelines by hiding luxury vacations and real estate transactions paid for by a billionaire benefactor, Justice Clarence Thomas on Wednesday delayed the release of his highly anticipated financial disclosure report for 2022. 

Such forms are routine and submitted by the justices on a yearly basis to detail any earnings, assets, gifts and stock holdings, offering a window into an area of the justices’ lives that has come under increasing criticism. Thomas was joined by Justices Samuel Alito in delaying his filing for a period of 90 days. Alito has previously requested extensions. 

Also at this time, however, the justices can update their disclosure reports from prior years. The new disclosure reports fall under amended ethics rules that place stricter guidelines for reporting gifts received by the justices — including travel on private jets.  

Reporting from ProPublica in April revealed Thomas had accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of luxury trips from Republican megadonor Harlan Crow. One on such trip, Thomas was said to have used Crow’s 162-foot yacht while on an island-hopping vacation. The Bush appointee also took regular trips on Crow’s private jet. Sometimes totaling over $500,000, the all-expense-paid trips were allegedly completely bankrolled by Crow.

Thomas also failed to report a six-figure real estate sale to Crow in 2013. The billionaire allegedly bought the properties with the intention of turning Thomas’ childhood home into a museum. He is said to have remodeled the home Thomas’ mother still lives in and foots the bill on her rent to this day. In May it was uncovered Thomas did not report Crow’s payments for the schooling of Thomas’ grandnephew, whom Thomas took legal custody of when the boy was 6 years old. 

All nine justices recommitted to the prescribed disclosure requirements in April. The letter accompanied Chief Justice John Roberts’ notice to the Senate Judiciary Committee that he would not testify about ongoing ethics concerns at the court. 

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was the sole justice who submitted a report on Thursday to disclose gifts. The Biden appointee noted that she received a $1,200 floral arrangement from Oprah Winfrey last year. She was also gifted a designer dress and jacket worth $6,580 that was worn in a photo shoot with Vogue, and she received a John Steele painting worth $580. 

None of the other justices reported receiving gifts. All gifts over $415 must be reported by the justices. 

While not reported as gifts, the justices did report receiving reimbursements on travel, hotels and meals for speaking engagements. The amounts of these reimbursements were not disclosed. These trips took the justices across the United States as well as abroad. Three of the justices — Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett — went to Italy during these trips. Justice Sonia Sotomayor traveled to Scotland and Justice Elena Kagan went to Ontario. 

Outside of their investments, the justices most commonly reported receiving income from teaching positions. George Mason University employed both Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh. Gorsuch earned $28,891.71, and Kavanaugh received $29,894.96. Justice Barrett earned $29,477.50 from teaching at the University of Notre Dame Law School. 

Justice Sotomayor stood out by earning over $150,000 from her book deals. The majority of those earnings came from book royalties, but the liberal justice also reported income from adaptations. 

Gorsuch reported earning $277.57 in royalties from his book. 

As calls for transparency at the court grow louder, the short yearly reports from the justices leave much to be desired from some court watchers. 

“Given the Court’s famously bleak attitude toward transparency, maybe I should be thankful they’re filed at all,” Gabe Roth, executive director of Fix the Court, said in a statement. "But given all we know about the conflicts the justices consistently ignore, and the perks they periodically receive, the disclosures must be more comprehensive in order to carry out the critical role they’re designed to play.”

Follow @KelseyReichmann
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