Almost every city, state and federal government agency, including federal judges, have a code of ethics by which these civil servants and employees must abide. But, the nine justices on the Supreme Court are the only federal judges not bound by a Code of Conduct, but they are required to disclose gifts worth more than $480.
ProPublica recently reported that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas failed to disclose some 20 years of gifts, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, that he received from his friend billionaire Harlan Crow, a GOP mega-donor. Crow paid for luxurious vacations, private jet trips, yacht cruises, and purchased property owned by Thomas, where his elderly mother still lives. Although Thomas had previously disclosed similar gifts, he stopped all reporting after the Los Angeles Times published a story in 2004 divulging that he had taken more gifts than any other justice on the high court. That same year, Thomas failed to recuse himself from an appeals case, even though the company being sued was part of Crow’s real estate empire.
Thomas had previously been criticized for declining to recuse himself from cases involving the 2020 presidential election and the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, where his wife Ginni was deeply involved in promoting Trump’s Big Lie and supporting his plot to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Brett Edkins, managing director of policy & political affairs with Stand Up America, who examines Thomas’ ethics violations and proposed congressional legislation that would require all Supreme Court justices adhere to a code of ethical conduct.
BRETT ETKINS: The Supreme Court has a serious ethics problem. That’s what we know. And the latest revelations about Justice Thomas should alarm every American. For over 20 years, Justice Thomas has been accepting and failing to disclose luxury vacations that he was gifted almost every year by GOP megadonor Harlan Crow, including multiple trips on his private jets, his private yacht, all of these worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
And let’s just talk about a few of them. These gifts included trips to Crowe’s ranch in East Texas, trips with crow to an all male retreat just north of San Francisco. Trips nearly every summer for 20 years to Crowe’s private resort in the Adirondacks. Yacht trips to New Zealand and the Greek islands.
One other colorful example: Thomas and his wife were given an all-expense paid trip to Indonesia. They flew a private jet there. They spent nine days island hopping around a volcanic archipelago on 162-foot superyacht, which has a private chef and butlers in attendance. This trip was worth over $500,000. This is Downton Abbey, but in Southeast Asia.
Crowe has also given Thomas physical gifts a $19,000 Frederick Douglass Bible, a $15,000 bust of Abraham Lincoln.
And he’s given Ginni Thomas, her Tea Party group, half a million dollars and that Tea Party group, then paid her a salary of $120,000. The bottom line is Crowe has been subsidizing Thomas’s lifestyle with consistent, luxurious gifts to an extent that’s almost unimaginable. And that would be alarming for any judge, let alone a Supreme Court justice.
SCOTT HARRIS: Brett, I just read recently that Senate Judiciary Chairman Democrat Dick Durbin of Illinois, invited Chief Justice John Roberts to testify about these ethics issues, as well as the circumstances surrounding the gifts received by Justice Thomas. Are the Democrats and the Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin, doing the right thing here, or should they demand that Justice Thomas himself appear rather than Chief Justice John Roberts, who I understand, hasn’t even replied to that invitation?
BRETT ETKINS: Congress should investigate Thomas. The Senate Judiciary Committee should demand that he testify publicly. Congress is a co-equal branch of government. They have a constitutional duty to hold this court in check. They can’t simply duck that duty. It would be a dereliction of duty for Congress not to do a full investigation of Thomas’ wrongdoing and demand that he testify.
Congress also has a responsibility to take legislative action to pass a code of conduct for this court. There is several bills out there over the last few years, but the leading bill out there is the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal and Transparency Act effort, which is a bill from Sens. Hank Johnson and Sheldon Whitehouse, which would require the Supreme Court to adopt and abide by a code of conduct.
It also has incredibly important reforms for Supreme Court ethics. It would establish disclosure rules for gifts, travel and income. It would establish an investigative board to review complaints against Supreme Court justices, and it would require justices like Justice Thomas to recuse themselves from cases where they have a conflict of interest, including if a party before them gave them or their spouse income or lobbied in support of their nomination to the court.
And we would also have new transparency requirements so if we knew that if parties before the court gave money to support a nomination of a court or gift to a justice, that would be disclosed publicly. These reforms have to be passed by this Congress. The Senate Judiciary Committee should not just investigate Thomas, a full investigation, they should also hold hearings to consider markup and pass the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal and Transparency Act.
For more information, visit Stand Up America at standupamerica.com.
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