April 12, 2023

Clarence Thomas

“Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas said [last] Friday he was not required to disclose the many trips he and his wife took that were paid for by Republican megadonor Harlan Crow…

“The nonprofit investigative journalism organization ProPublica reported [last] Thursday that Thomas, who has been a justice for more than 31 years, has for more than two decades accepted luxury trips from Crow nearly every year. Thomas, 74, and his wife, Virginia, have traveled on Crow’s yacht and private jet as well as stayed at his private resort in New York’s Adirondack Mountains, ProPublica reported…

“Supreme Court justices, like other federal judges, are required to file an annual financial disclosure report which asks them to list gifts they have received, but provides exemptions for hospitality from friends. Ethics experts have offered conflicting views about whether Thomas was required to disclose the trips. Last month, the federal judiciary bolstered disclosure requirements for all judges, including the high court justices, although overnight stays at personal vacation homes owned by friends remain exempt from disclosure.” AP News

See past issues

From the Left

The left criticizes Thomas, arguing that the trips should have been disclosed and that ethics rules should be strengthened.

“The ethics rules do carve out an exemption for personal hospitality. They don’t let justices use their rich friends’ planes as a personal taxi service… Indeed, Thomas himself apparently used to think Crow-paid travel was, in fact, ‘reportable.’… But after the Los Angeles Times reported on the Thomas-Crow relationship in 2004, Thomas stopped reporting such gifts…

“This isn’t the first time Thomas has been heedless of reporting requirements. In 2011, he amended years of financial disclosure forms because he had failed to list his wife’s employment with the Heritage Foundation and Hillsdale College ‘due to a misunderstanding of the filing instructions.’…

“Donning a judicial robe does not require discarding [one’s] long-standing relationships; justices aren’t monks. But it does counsel taking care about appearances. Moreover, justices aren’t condemned to their preexisting social circles, but they need to take care that they’re not being lavished with favors and are not being used because of their exalted positions. The Crow-Thomas friendship… didn’t begin until after he joined the court. Beware new friends bearing yachts.”

Ruth Marcus, Washington Post

“Corruption is much more than a cartoonish quid pro quo, where cash changes hands and the state is used for private gain. Corruption, more often than not, looks like an ordinary relationship, even a friendship. It is perks and benefits freely given to a powerful friend. It is expensive gifts and tokens of appreciation between those friends, except that one holds office and the other wants to influence its ideological course. It is being enmeshed in networks of patronage…

The Supreme Court is not going to police itself. The only remedy to the problem of the court’s corruption — to say nothing of its power — is to subject it to the same checks and limits we associate with the other branches… Whether it’s through structural change or a simple ethics code, it is up to elected officials to remind the court that it serves the republic, and not the other way around.”

Jamelle Bouie, New York Times

“I recently posed a question on Twitter asking current and former government employees about rules they must follow and gifts they’ve declined. The responses are telling: Many jurisdictions have strict dollar limits in the $10 or $20 range for gifts. Public school teachers in Louisiana, for example, can’t accept a gift worth more than $25. The stories poured out; current and former public servants reported that they’ve refused coffee, socks, bagels, doughnuts, cake, iced tea, bottles of water, a box of tea, a plant, a matcha latte, a pen. One librarian declined a box of candy… While librarians and teachers and FDA inspectors and lawyers turn down water bottles and bagels, Thomas says yes to all this?”

Terri Gerstein, Slate

From the Right

The right defends Thomas, arguing that there is no evidence of a conflict of interest.

The right defends Thomas, arguing that there is no evidence of a conflict of interest.

ProPublica asserts that the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 clearly required Thomas to report these vacations as gifts. This is false. People do not report generally ‘personal hospitality,’ such as Thomas's vacations. It wasn’t until mere weeks ago that the Judicial Conference issued new guidelines that said free trips and air travel must now be reported. This was announced as a change in policy, meaning disclosure was not required in the past but would be in the future… There simply is no corruption here.”

Editorial Board, Washington Examiner

“Justice Thomas would have been obliged to disclose gifts that posed a conflict of interest involving cases that would be heard by the High Court. But there is no evidence that Mr. Crow has had any such business before the Court, and Mr. Crow says he has ‘never asked about a pending or lower court case.’ The most ProPublica can come up with is that ‘Crow has deep connections in conservative politics.’…

“One hilarious section reports that a painting at Mr. Crow’s New York resort includes Mr. Crow, Justice Thomas and three friends smoking cigars. One of the friends is Leonard Leo, ‘the Federalist Society leader regarded as an architect of the Supreme Court’s recent turn to the right,’ ProPublica says. This conspiracy is so secret that it’s hiding in plain sight. Can anyone imagine such a story ever being written about a liberal Justice on the Court?”

Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

“While the purpose of ProPublica’s piece is to frame all this as unethical, it offers not a single substantive instance of anything remotely approaching a conflict of interest. No cases involving Harlan Crow have ever reached Thomas. And there are no examples of Thomas having changed his positions to accommodate anyone…

“But, of course, leftists can’t believe anyone has a good-faith position in opposition to their own. A person can either be bought by nefarious moneymen, be misled by nefarious moneymen, or be nefarious themselves. Those are the choices.”

David Harsanyi, The Federalist

Some argue, “The ‘gotcha’ game against Thomas, in particular, has been persistently wrongheaded and mean-spirited for decades, and he has good reason to resent it…

“[At the same time] there is no good reason, even if out of an abundance of caution, not to disclose Crow’s hospitality. For public confidence in the courts and in the Supreme Court in general, there is every good reason for Thomas to self-report his free trips since he has nothing to hide. A dignified public mea culpa, plus an amendment of his records, would be in order. Meanwhile, Thomas’s principled jurisprudence, always meticulously well explained, can keep speaking for itself.”

Quin Hillyer, Washington Examiner

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