Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has for more than two decades accepted luxury trips nearly every year from Republican mega donor Harlan Crow without reporting them on financial disclosure forms, ProPublica reports.
In a lengthy story published Thursday the nonprofit investigative journalism organization, catalogs various trips Thomas has taken aboard Crow’s yacht and private jet as well as to Crow’s private resort in the Adirondacks. A 2019 trip to Indonesia the story detailed could have cost more than $500,000 had Thomas chartered the plane and yacht himself, reported.
On Friday, Thomas said he was not required to disclose the many trips he and his wife took that were paid for by Crow.
Describing Crow and his wife, Kathy, as “among our dearest friends,” Thomas said in a statement that he was advised by colleagues on the nation’s highest court and others in the federal judiciary that “this sort of personal hospitality from close personal friends, who did not have business before the Court, was not reportable.” Thomas did not name the other justices or those in the judiciary with whom he had consulted.
Supreme Court justices, like other federal judges, are required to file an annual financial disclosure report which asks them to list gifts they have received. It was not clear why Thomas omitted the trips, but under a judiciary policy guide consulted by The Associated Press, food, lodging or entertainment received as “personal hospitality of any individual” does not need to be reported if it is at the personal residence of that individual or their family. That said, the exception to reporting is not supposed to cover “transportation that substitutes for commercial transportation” and properties owned by an entity.
“It’s incomprehensible to me that someone would do this,” said Nancy Gertner, a retired federal judge appointed by President Bill Clinton. When she was on the bench, Gertner said, she was so cautious about appearances that she wouldn’t mention her title when making dinner reservations: “It was a question of not wanting to use the office for anything other than what it was intended.”
Virginia Canter, a former government ethics lawyer who served in administrations of both parties, said Thomas “seems to have completely disregarded his higher ethical obligations.”
“When a justice’s lifestyle is being subsidized by the rich and famous, it absolutely corrodes public trust,” said Canter, now at the watchdog group CREW. “Quite frankly, it makes my heart sink.”
Last month, the federal judiciary beefed up disclosure requirements for all judges, including the high court justices, although overnight stays at personal vacation homes owned by friends remain exempt from disclosure.
The disclosure of the lavish trips stands in contrast to what Thomas has said about his preferred methods of travel. Thomas, who grew up poor in Georgia, has talked about enjoying traveling in his motorcoach and preferring “Walmart parking lots to the beaches.”
Last year, questions about Thomas’ ethics arose when it was disclosed that he did not step away from election cases following the 2020 election despite the fact that his wife, conservative activist Virginia Thomas, reached out to lawmakers and the White House to urge defiance of the election results. The latest story will likely increase calls for the justices to adopt an ethics code and enhance disclosure of travel and other gifts.
In a statement, Crow told ProPublica that he and his wife have been friends of Thomas and his wife since 1996, five years after Thomas joined the high court. Crow said that the “hospitality we have extended to the Thomas’s over the years is no different from the hospitality we have extended to our many other dear friends” and that the couple “never asked for any of this hospitality.”
He said they have “never asked about a pending or lower court case, and Justice Thomas has never discussed one, and we have never sought to influence Justice Thomas on any legal or political issue.”
ProPublica’s story says that Thomas has been vacationing at Crow’s lavish Topridge resort virtually every summer for more than two decades. During one trip in 2017, other guests included executives at “Verizon and PricewaterhouseCoopers, major Republican donors and one of the leaders of the American Enterprise Institute, a pro-business conservative think tank,” ProPublica reported.
Crow wrote that he is “unaware of any of our friends ever lobbying or seeking to influence Justice Thomas on any case, and I would never invite anyone who I believe had any intention of doing that.”