Lawmakers Call for Tighter Ethics Rules After Revelations About Justice Thomas
WASHINGTON — Democratic lawmakers reiterated calls on Thursday to tighten ethics rules for the Supreme Court after a report shed light on gifts and favors Justice Clarence Thomas accepted from a major conservative donor for nearly 20 years.
An investigation by ProPublica revealed that Justice Thomas accompanied the donor, Harlan Crow, a real estate billionaire, on a series of luxury vacations almost every year without disclosing them. The trips included extended stays on Mr. Crow’s yacht, flights on Mr. Crow’s private jet and visits to Mr. Crow’s all-male private retreat in Monte Rio, Calif.
The disclosure early Thursday renewed scrutiny on Justice Thomas, who has long faced questions over conflicts of interest in part because of the political activities of his wife, Virginia Thomas, as lawmakers emphasized that stricter ethics rules were needed for the court’s nine justices.
“In every other place in government, there is an ethics rule that applies,” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat of Rhode Island who sits on the Judiciary Committee’s panel that oversees federal courts, said in an interview. “The only place in the United States government where that is not true is the United States Supreme Court, where the nine justices have exempted themselves from this very basic process. The fact that there’s no way to get an independent internal investigation of a justice is how Justice Thomas has been able to get away with all these reporting failures.”
The friendship between Justice Thomas and Mr. Crow has raised eyebrows since the 1990s. Mr. Crow has donated to causes led by Ms. Thomas, including financing a Savannah, Ga., library project in Justice Thomas’s name, and personally contributing $500,000 to Ms. Thomas, who at the time was organizing for a Tea Party-related group.
In a statement, Mr. Crow denied any improper influence over the judicial system.
“The hospitality we have extended to the Thomases over the years is no different from the hospitality we have extended to our many other dear friends,” he said. “We have been most fortunate to have a great life of many friends and financial success, and we have always placed a priority on spending time with our family and friends. Justice Thomas and Ginni never asked for any of this hospitality.”
Questions of conflict of interest have dogged Justice Thomas for years, in part because of Ms. Thomas’s political activism.
Text messages Ms. Thomas sent to top officials in the Trump administration in the weeks between the 2020 presidential election and the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol demonstrated that she was actively involved in influencing the legal effort to subvert the race. The disclosure raised questions over whether Justice Thomas should step aside on deciding cases related to the riot.
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, called for the justice to be impeached.
“This is beyond party or partisanship,” she added on Twitter. “This degree of corruption is shocking – almost cartoonish.”
Activists pushing for reforms to the Supreme Court demanded more structural changes to the court.
“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,” said Gabriel Roth, the executive director of Fix the Court.