Five Democratic members of Congress have formally requested that U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland investigate the alleged receipt of gifts from conservative benefactors by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
The PDF file containing the signatures of Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), and Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) was released on August 11th.
Following the release of a series of reports by the left-leaning news organization ProPublica, lawmakers have requested that the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) investigate Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
This investigation focuses on Justice Thomas’ alleged failure to disclose substantial donations received from billionaires such as Harlan Crow and others over a nearly two-decade period. This violation of federal law is viewed as a breach of his official responsibilities.
According to the latest publication by ProPublica on August 10th, it has been asserted that Justice Thomas “has secretly reaped the benefits from a network of wealthy and well-connected patrons that is far more extensive than previously understood.”
The report documented a total of “38 destination vacations, including a previously unreported voyage on a yacht around the Bahamas; 26 private jet flights, plus an additional eight by helicopter; a dozen VIP passes to professional and college sporting events, typically perched in the skybox; two stays at luxury resorts in Florida and Jamaica; and one standing invitation to an uber-exclusive golf club overlooking the Atlantic coast.”
Since assuming his position on the court in 1991, Justice Thomas has evidently received a substantial quantity of financial support, including unannounced travels totaling “several million dollars.” This extravagance has allowed him to experience “a lifestyle far beyond what his income could provide.”
The disclosure that Mr. Crow, a wealthy Republican donor, lavished lavish vacations on Thomas, provided financial support for the judge’s grandnephew’s education, and purchased inexpensive real estate from the justice’s family raises specific concerns among Democrats.
According to the letter, it has been reported that Justice Thomas has been the recipient of “numerous undisclosed valuable gifts from Harlan Crow over the course of at least fifteen years, despite certifying repeatedly that his financial disclosure forms are ‘accurate, true, and complete,’ in certifications ‘subject to civil and criminal sanctions.’”
According to the lawmakers, the federal Ethics in Government Act mandates that judicial officers, including Supreme Court justices, are obligated “to file annual reports disclosing financial income, gifts and reimbursements, property interests, liabilities, and transactions, among other information.”
“Despite this clear mandate, Justice Thomas and his wife, Virginia ‘Ginni’ Thomas–a far right activist who often champions conservative causes that come before the Court–have received non-exempt gifts of significant value from Harlan Crow without reporting the source, description, and value of such gifts over the course of at least fifteen years.”
The letter asserted that “No individual, regardless of their position or stature, should be exempt from legal scrutiny for lawbreaking.”
Mr. Crow, a prominent Republican donor, disapproved of a ProPublica article against Justice Thomas from April, labeling it a “politically motivated attack.”
In a statement issued during that month, Justice Thomas reaffirmed his commitment to complying with disclosure regulations. He stated that he had “always sought to comply with the disclosure guidelines.”
Thomas added that during his first term on the Supreme Court, he was advised that “personal hospitality from close personal friends who had no business before the Court was not reportable.”
According to legal experts quoted in ProPublica publications, the Ethics in Government Act requires Supreme Court justices to disclose any gifts they receive. Nonetheless, contradictory opinions from other legal scholars cast doubt on this interpretation.
According to legal scholars, the presence of wealthy and charitable acquaintances among judges does not violate the law. Moreover, because the Supreme Court’s institution is enshrined in the United States Constitution and not subject to congressional authority, legislators do not have complete discretion over its regulation.
It has also been asserted that Justice Thomas has refrained from participating in matters involving his donors, thereby avoiding any potential conflict of interest. In contrast, Democratic party supporters argue that Justice Thomas’s acceptance of gifts is unsuitable for a judicial official and indicative of corruption, regardless of the existence of a specific quid pro quo arrangement.
The aforementioned correspondence from legislators was prompted by the Democratic-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee’s endorsement of a Supreme Court ethics reform bill. This bill was passed on July 20 by a vote of 11 to 10 along party lines. Uncertainty surrounds the timing of the bill’s deliberation by the entire Senate.
Republicans oppose the proposal on the grounds that it violates the Constitution’s guiding principles. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) stated that the measure was perceived as an attempt to harass and threaten the Supreme Court.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), the bill’s primary proponent, argued that the legislation was necessary due to the perceived influence of special interest organizations on the court during the 20 July hearing. He compared this influence to the railroad oligarchs’ influence over a railroad commission in the 1890s, when decisions were made in their advantage.
If the Senate, which is currently controlled by the Democratic Party, approves the proposal, it will face significant opposition in the House of Representatives, which is currently controlled by the Republican Party.
Republicans have hypothesized that Democrats, a significant portion of whom advocate for expanding the Supreme Court with justices who adhere to liberal ideologies, are primarily motivated to challenge the court due to their dissatisfaction with its conservative-leaning majority of six members, who have been issuing rulings they deem unacceptable.
President Donald Trump nominated three of a total of six Supreme Court justices.
In response to the disclosure of putative ethical violations attributable to conservative justices, namely Justice Thomas and Justice Samuel Alito, the Democratic Party has expressed a strong desire for the Supreme Court to establish an ethics code.