Justice Clarence Thomas of the U.S. Supreme Court has been enjoying luxurious travel provided by billionaire Republican megadonor Harlan Crow for over two decades, according to an investigative report by ProPublica. The report reveals that Thomas has been traveling on Crow’s superyacht, flying on his private jet, and staying at his private resort in the Adirondacks in upstate New York and his ranch in Texas, all of which were not disclosed on his financial statements.
In 2019, Thomas and his wife, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, flew on Crow’s private jet to Indonesia and boarded his yacht for a nine-day island cruise valued at approximately $500,000. Crow’s hospitality extended to Thomas and his wife is no different from what he has offered other friends, according to Crow, and Thomas has never sought free vacations.
However, ethics experts suggest that Thomas’ failure to disclose the jet flights may have violated a Watergate-era law on gift disclosures. They also believed that Thomas should have disclosed the yacht trips. In the past, justices were not required to report free food and lodging provided by friends or family members. Still, new regulations adopted by the U.S. Judicial Conference in March require federal judges and Supreme Court justices to report free accommodations at commercial properties paid for by third parties who are not relatives.
Gabe Roth, executive director of the nonpartisan judicial watchdog group Fix the Court, believes the judiciary should go further by requiring pre-approval of sponsored trips and disclosure within 30 days of the trip. “The astounding reporting from ProPublica leads to a conclusion we’ve all come to expect: The Supreme Court is the least accountable part of our government, and nothing is going to change without a wholesale, lawmaker-led reimagining of its responsibilities when it comes to basic measures of oversight,” Roth said.
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ProPublica compiled the information on Thomas’ free travel by examining flight records and internal documents distributed to Crow’s employees. They also interviewed staff members and others associated with the trips.
Crow stated that he has never attempted to influence Thomas’ views or discussed any legal or political issue. He further stated, “More generally, I am unaware of any of our friends ever lobbying or seeking to influence Justice Thomas on any case, and I would never invite anyone who I believe had any intention of doing that. These are gatherings of friends.”
Crow has spent millions of dollars on efforts to reshape the law and the judiciary. However, he and his real estate company had not had a case before the Supreme Court since Thomas became a justice.
Thomas did not respond to ProPublica’s questions regarding his free travel. Justice Clarence Thomas’ free travel, provided by billionaire Republican mega donor Harlan Crow, raises questions about potential ethics violations. The lack of disclosure regarding these trips has prompted the U.S. Judicial Conference to adopt new regulations requiring judges and justices to report free accommodations paid for by third parties who are not relatives. While Crow has denied any attempt to influence Thomas’ views, the hospitality extended to the justice and his wife highlights the need for greater oversight of the Supreme Court.
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