A group of five Democratic members of Congress have formally requested that U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland initiate an investigation into Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas about the alleged acceptance of gifts from conservative billionaires.
The aforementioned document, in the form of a PDF file, was issued on August 11th and has 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.).
Following the publication of a series of reports by the left-leaning media organization ProPublica, legislators have called upon the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) to initiate an inquiry into Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
The focus of this investigation pertains to Justice Thomas’ alleged failure to disclose substantial gifts received from individuals such as Harlan Crow and other billionaires over a span of almost twenty years. This failure to comply with federal law is seen as a violation of his official obligations.
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.”
Justice Thomas has apparently received a significant amount of financial support, including unannounced travels amounting to “several million dollars,” since assuming his position on the court in 1991. This extravagance has enabled him to enjoy “a lifestyle far beyond what his income could provide.”
Democrats express specific concerns with the disclosure that Mr. Crow, a Republican contributor of substantial wealth, bestowed opulent vacations upon Thomas, offered financial assistance for the education of a grandnephew whom the judge reared, and acquired inexpensive real estate from the justice’s family.
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 contributor, expressed his disapproval of a ProPublica piece from April against Justice Thomas, characterizing it as a “politically motivated attack.”
Justice Thomas expressed in a statement during that particular month his consistent commitment to adhering to the disclosure rules. He stated that he “always sought to comply with the disclosure guidelines.”
Thomas further stated that during his initial tenure on the Supreme Court, he received guidance suggesting that instances of “personal hospitality from close personal friends, who did not have business before the Court, was not reportable.”
According to legal professionals cited in ProPublica publications, it has been asserted that the Ethics in Government Act mandates Supreme Court justices to disclose any gifts received. However, contrasting viewpoints from additional legal scholars cast doubt on this interpretation.
According to legal scholars, the presence of affluent and benevolent acquaintances among judges does not constitute a violation of the law. Furthermore, as the establishment of the Supreme Court is enshrined in the United States Constitution rather than being subject to congressional authority, legislators do not possess unrestricted discretion in its regulation.
It has been also said that Justice Thomas has refrained from involvement in issues pertaining to his donors, therefore negating any potential judicial conflict of interest. In contrast, proponents of the Democratic party contend that Justice Thomas’s acceptance of gifts is unbecoming of a judicial official and serves as indicative of corruption, irrespective of the presence of a specific quid pro quo arrangement.
The aforementioned correspondence from the legislators was prompted by the endorsement of a Supreme Court ethics reform measure by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is now under Democrat control. This bill received approval on July 20th, with a vote of 11-10 along party lines. The timeline for the bill’s consideration by the entire Senate remains uncertain.
Republicans are in opposition to the proposal, asserting that it violates the principles outlined in the Constitution. According to Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the bill was perceived as an endeavor aimed at engaging in the act of harassing and threatening the Supreme Court.
During the July 20 hearing, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), the primary proponent of the bill, argued that the legislation was necessary due to the perceived influence of special interest groups on the court. He likened this influence to the control exerted by railroad barons over a railroad commission during the 1890s, where decisions were made in their favor.
If the Senate, which is now under Democratic control, grants approval to the plan, it will have significant challenges in the House of Representatives, where the Republican Party holds the majority.
Republicans have posited that Democrats, a significant portion of whom advocate for expanding the Supreme Court with justices who align with liberal ideologies, are motivated to challenge the court primarily due to their dissatisfaction with its conservative-leaning majority of six members, which has been issuing rulings that they deem unacceptable.
Three out of the total of six justices were nominated by President Donald Trump.
The Democratic Party has expressed a strong desire for the Supreme Court to establish a code of ethics in response to the disclosure of purported ethical violations attributed to conservative justices, namely Justice Thomas and Justice Samuel Alito.