Washington, April 14, 2023 — The Department of Justice and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court should investigate Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas for failing to disclose hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts from and property sales to billionaire donor Harlan Crow, according to a complaint sent today by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington to the Department of Justice and Chief Justice John Roberts.
According to reporting by ProPublica, Thomas and his wife have accepted luxury travel and vacations for 20 years from “real estate magnate and Republican megadonor” Crow, who befriended Thomas after he joined the Supreme Court, without disclosing them as gifts or travel reimbursements on his financial disclosures filed under the Ethics in Government Act. Thomas also reportedly sold his and other family members’ properties to Crow in 2014 for more than $100,000 without reporting the sales on his financial disclosure reports.
“Justice Thomas’s acceptance of and failure to disclose these repeated, lavish gifts and shocking real estate sales not only undermines public trust in his ability to serve impartially on the Court, it undermines confidence in the Supreme Court as an institution,” CREW President Noah Bookbinder said.
Under the Ethics in Government Act, Thomas is required to disclose travel and other gifts, with the source and a brief description, including the value. The Guide to Judiciary Policy for Financial Disclosure in effect at the time the trips were taken makes it clear that these trips were covered by the reporting requirements. While Thomas claims a hospitality exemption, that exemption would not apply to a private plane or yacht. Under the EIGA and Guide to Judiciary Policy for Financial Transaction, Thomas was required to report the sale of the properties to Crow and could not claim a personal residence exemption on disclosing them, as they were always referred to as rental properties on his disclosures and never lost their investment nature even when the houses on two of the properties were later torn down.
The Judicial Conference Gift Regulations implement 5 USC §§ 7351 and 7353, which prohibit Thomas from accepting a gift from someone whose personal interests may be substantially affected by the Court or if it is being offered for Thomas’s private gain. The fact that Crow purchased Thomas’s childhood home for the purpose of preserving it as a potential museum site honoring Thomas only adds to the egregiousness of the apparent violation. Other gifts received from Crow or organizations he is affiliated with–such as a $19,000 Frederick Douglass bible and a $15,000 bust of Abraham Lincoln–also need to be taken into consideration.
“Justice Thomas has accepted consistent and luxurious gifts to such an extent that they have subsidized his lifestyle in a way unimaginable for most judges, suggesting a use of his position for personal gain and a compromise of his objectivity,” Bookbinder said. “The Supreme Court has the final say on every legal case in America, so every justice must have the highest ethical standards to serve. Justice Thomas appears to have failed to uphold those standards and needs to be investigated immediately.”
The complaint was signed by Bookbinder and CREW Chief Ethics Counsel Virginia Canter. CREW was joined on the complaint by former chief White House ethics lawyers Norm Eisen and Richard Painter.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is a nonprofit legal watchdog group dedicated to holding public officials accountable for their actions. For more information, please visit www.citizensforethics.org