'A flagrant violation': More legal, ethics experts slam Clarence Thomas over bombshell corruption allegations
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is under fire after a bombshell ProPublica report detailed the expensive vacations he’s been given, gifts of a Republican megadonor, for more than two decades, without disclosing certain portions of them – which legal experts say he is required by federal law to do.
At issue are important questions of ethics and law.
The vacations, revealed in ProPublica’s extensive and detailed report Thursday, from a legal standpoint appear to be worth hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars in total. From an ethical standpoint, some say, they have cost the institution of the Supreme Court further repetitional damage.
Justice Thomas at times was accompanied on these lavish trips by his wife Ginni Thomas, the far-right activist and lobbyist who worked behind the scenes to try to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
Together or apart, one person who joined them on these all-expenses-paid trips to private resorts via private jets and private yachts was the gift-giver: billionaire Dallas real estate magnate and GOP mega donor Harlan Crow.
READ MORE: For Decades Clarence Thomas Has Accepted Luxury Vacations from a GOP Megadonor Without Disclosing Them
ProPublica revealed the details of one of Thomas’ almost yearly trips.
“In late June 2019, right after the U.S. Supreme Court released its final opinion of the term, Justice Clarence Thomas boarded a large private jet headed to Indonesia. He and his wife were going on vacation: nine days of island-hopping in a volcanic archipelago on a superyacht staffed by a coterie of attendants and a private chef,” ProPublica reports.
“If Thomas had chartered the plane and the 162-foot yacht himself, the total cost of the trip could have exceeded $500,000. Fortunately for him, that wasn’t necessary: He was on vacation with real estate magnate and Republican megadonor Harlan Crow, who owned the jet — and the yacht, too.”
Justice Thomas “has gone with Crow to the Bohemian Grove, the exclusive California all-male retreat, and to Crow’s sprawling ranch in East Texas. And Thomas typically spends about a week every summer at Crow’s private resort in the Adirondacks.”
Crow, who financially supports right wing causes, in 2011, according to Politico, contributed $500,000 to help Ginni Thomas start her consulting group, “Liberty Consulting, which boasts on its website using her ‘experience and connections’ to help clients with ‘governmental affairs efforts’ and political donation strategies.”
The ProPublica report includes an image of a painting that hangs at Crow’s private lakeside resort, Camp Topridge, in the Adirondacks that features shows Crow and Justice Thomas “smoking cigars at the resort. They are joined by lawyers Peter Rutledge, Leonard Leo and Mark Paoletta.”
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Leonard Leo is a vice president of The Federalist Society and sits on its board. The Federalist Society was the right-wing clearing house for most of Donald Trump’s federal court appointees, including his three Supreme Court nominees, and Leo is seen as the man behind those picks.
Meanwhile, legal experts are responding to the bombshell report, confirming ProPublica’s assertion that Thomas’ “failure to report the flights appears to violate a law passed after Watergate that requires justices, judges, members of Congress and federal officials to disclose most gifts, two ethics law experts said. He also should have disclosed his trips on the yacht, these experts said.”
Slate senior writer Mark Joseph Stern, an attorney who writes about the courts and the law and wrote a book on the Roberts Supreme Court, calls Justice Thomas’ actions “corruption.”
Stern observes that “federal law DOES require justices to disclose most gifts of value.”
“It’s clear that Thomas brazenly violated this law many times. We should call this what it is: corruption,” he says.
“Just to be clear here,” Stern adds, “it was a flagrant violation of federal law for Thomas to accept this wildly expensive luxury vacation without reporting it as a gift—his conduct isn’t just unseemly, it’s illegal.”
READ MORE: ‘They Had an Insider on SCOTUS’: Legal Experts Stunned by Bombshell Clarence Thomas Was Seen as ‘Key’ by Trump Lawyers
The award-winning investigative reporter for The New Yorker, Jane Mayer, pointing to ProPublica’s report, says: “This is why public trust in the Supreme Court is cratering.”
Leah Litman, Assistant Professor of Law and The University of Michigan School of Law, says, “no one is doing a better job at making the case that the Supreme Court is broken than … the Court and its Justices.”
Top national security attorney Brad Moss offers this exercise: “Change the name of the Justice to Kagan or Sotomayor, and the name of the donor to Soros. Then think about how Fox would react.”
Imani Gandy, Editor-at-Large covering courts and the law for Rewire News Group, does not mince words.
“Clarence Thomas should be impeached,” she says. “He broke the law.”
Attorney and former Biden deputy cabinet secretary, Cristóbal Alex asks, “How do you impeach a Supreme Court Justice?
“Besides being married to someone who conspired to overthrow our government, Justice Thomas has accepted what appears to be millions of dollars in undisclosed gifts,” Alex notes.
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