Jake Johnson, Common Dreams
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas revealed Thursday that he took three flights on the private jet of conservative billionaire Harlan Crow last year, a disclosure that came more than four months after ProPublica reported that the powerful judge has been accepting luxury trips from the Texas real estate magnate for decades.
The trips are outlined in Thomas’ required financial disclosure for 2022. Last May, according to the document, Thomas flew on Crow’s private jet to Dallas, where the justice delivered a keynote address at a conference held by the right-wing American Enterprise Institute.
The disclosure states that the May flights to and from Dallas “were by private plane for official travel” because Thomas’ “security detail recommended noncommercial travel whenever possible,” citing “increased security risk following the Dobbs opinion leak.”
That opinion, which was formally handed down on June 24, 2022, ended the constitutional right to abortion in the U.S.
Kyle Herrig, a senior adviser to the progressive group Accountable.US, said in a statement that “it’s no surprise that Justice Thomas has kept up his decadeslong cozy relationship with billionaire benefactor Harlan Crow with even more lavish jet rides and vacation reimbursements.”
“For years, Thomas has used his position on our nation’s highest court as a way to upgrade his own lifestyle—and that hasn’t stopped,” Herrig added.
Thomas, who has faced calls to resign over the gifts from Crow and other billionaires, also acknowledges in the filing that he “inadvertently omitted” bank account information in financial disclosures dating back to 2017. Thomas previously had to amend two decades of disclosures after he neglected to include information about his wife’s income from conservative groups, including the Heritage Foundation.
“In a pathetic attempt to clear his name, Thomas’ latest financial disclosure confirms his financial dependency on right-wing billionaires and his scorn for basic judicial ethics and common decency,” said Brett Edkins, managing director of policy and political affairs at Stand Up America. “It’s no wonder the Supreme Court is mired in an unprecedented crisis of legitimacy.”
“It was Justice Thomas’ own decadeslong improper financial relationship with Harlan Crow that sparked the Supreme Court corruption crisis in the first place—and that was clearly just the tip of the iceberg.”
In the wake of ProPublica‘s April reporting on Thomas’ luxury trips on Crow’s dime, the justice insisted he did not think the vacations needed to be reported on his annual financial disclosure form.
Days before ProPublica published its bombshell story, the policy-setting body of the federal judiciary clarified in a letter to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) that reporting exemptions do not include transportation and certain other gifts.
In response to Thomas’ new filing, Whitehouse pledged that “this late-come effort at ‘cleanup on aisle three’ won’t deter us from fully investigating the massive, secret, right-wing billionaire influence in which this court is enmired.”
“I take some satisfaction at being the one who pressed for the clarification by the Judicial Conference of the ‘personal hospitality’ standard, which I view as a clarification of what the standard was all along, not new or changed requirements,” Whitehouse added. “If justices of the Supreme Court had questions about disclosure, they had a Financial Disclosure Committee of the [Judicial Conference] to ask. I should not have had to press this, and they should not pretend it’s new.”
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) offered a one-word response to the new filing:
— Ed Markey (@SenMarkey) August 31, 2023
Earlier this month, ProPublica reported that during his three decades on the Supreme Court, Thomas has taken “at least 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.”
“Like clockwork,” the investigative outlet noted, “Thomas’ leisure activities have been underwritten by benefactors who share the ideology that drives his jurisprudence.”
Fueled by outrage over ProPublica‘s revelations, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved Democratic legislation last month that would require the Supreme Court to adopt a binding code of ethics.
Not a single Republican on the committee supported the bill, which has yet to get a vote in the full Senate. Even if it passed the upper chamber, it would be doomed to fail in the Republican-controlled House.
“It was Justice Thomas’ own decadeslong improper financial relationship with Harlan Crow that sparked the Supreme Court corruption crisis in the first place—and that was clearly just the tip of the iceberg,” Herrig of Accountable.US said Thursday. “Harlan Crow, Justice Thomas, Leonard Leo, and other key players in the growing Supreme Court corruption crisis may believe they exist above the law, but they don’t. We need accountability and reform now.”