Associate Justice Clarence Thomas during the formal group photograph at the Supreme Court in Washington, DC, US, on Friday, Oct. 7, 2022.
Eric Lee | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has accepted secret luxury trips from Republican megadonor Harlan Crow for more than two decades in apparent violation of a financial disclosure law, a ProPublica report revealed Thursday.
Thomas has vacationed on Crow’s 162-foot superyacht, flown on the real estate developer’s private jet and spent time at the GOP donor’s private resort and other exclusive retreats, ProPublica reported, citing documents and dozens of interviews.
Thomas, the 74-year-old conservative associate justice who has served on the nation’s highest court since 1991, has not reported the trips on his financial disclosures as required by law, the nonprofit newsroom reported.
The investigation offers more fuel for Thomas’ critics, who say his refusal to recuse himself from cases touching on issues related to his wife’s political work in conservative circles — including her involvement in schemes to overturn the 2020 election — poses a conflict of interest.
Ethics experts and ex-judges interviewed by ProPublica were incredulous. Thomas “seems to have completely disregarded his higher ethical obligations,” Virginia Canter, chief ethics counsel at the watchdog group CREW, told the outlet.
“When a justice’s lifestyle is being subsidized by the rich and famous, it absolutely corrodes public trust,” Canter said.
Spokespeople for the Supreme Court and Crow did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment on the investigation.
In a statement to ProPublica, Crow said, “The hospitality we have extended to the Thomas’s over the years is no different from the hospitality we have extended to our many other dear friends.”
Thomas and his wife, Ginni Thomas, “never asked” for any of the gifts, nor for any of the contributions the Crows have made to projects celebrating the justice’s “life and legacy,” the megadonor said. Crow added that he and his wife “have never asked about a pending or lower court case, and Justice Thomas has never discussed one, and we have never sought to influence Justice Thomas on any legal or political issue.”
Crow, a Texas real estate magnate, became friends with Thomas after he joined the Supreme Court. He has given more than $10 million in publicly disclosed political donations, and unknown amounts to groups that aren’t required to reveal their donors, ProPublica reported.
Thomas typically spends about a week each summer at Topridge, Crow’s private lakeside resort in the Adirondacks, and flight records show he has used Crow’s plane numerous times, according to the news outlet.
Supreme Court justices are constrained by fewer ethical restrictions than lower rungs of the judiciary. Some groups have called to implement a code of ethics for the high court.
But justices still submit financial disclosures, and experts say they are required to disclose all gifts valued more than $415. While there are exceptions to that requirement, transportation is not one of them.
“If Justice Thomas received free travel on private planes and yachts, failure to report the gifts is a violation of the disclosure law,” Kedric Payne, senior ethics director for the Campaign Legal Center, told the outlet.