Court Battles

Ethics watchdog files against Thomas following reports on trips, real estate deal

An ethics watchdog nonprofit organization filed a civil and criminal complaint against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas following reports that he did not disclose gifts he received and a real estate deal he made with a major Republican donor years ago. 

Citizens for Responsibility & Ethics in Washington (CREW) said in a release on Friday that the Justice Department (DOJ) and Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts should launch investigations into Thomas over lavish trips he received over a period of years that were paid for by Harlan Crow, a Dallas-based real estate developer, and detailed in a ProPublica report last week. 

The organization said the DOJ and Roberts should also investigate a 2014 real estate deal in which he reportedly sold a single-story home and two vacant lots to Crow. 

Thomas received the trips and made the sale without disclosing them on federal financial reporting forms. 

Crow has given millions of dollars to conservative causes. 

“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 in the release. 

Thomas has said he was “advised” that he did not need to disclose the trips because they came from a the “personal hospitality” of a friend. An exemption to disclosure requirements exists for certain gifts from friends. 

CREW in its release that the hospitality exemption does not apply to trips on a private airplane or yacht, and Thomas could not claim an exemption for the real estate sale. 

The complaint alleges that Thomas might have violated the Ethics in Government Act, which requires judicial officers and other officials to disclose travel and other gifts they receive in annual financial disclosure reports. Thomas may have also violated Judicial Conference Regulations on Gifts, according to the complaint, which prohibit certain gifts from being given, solicited or accepted by judicial branch officers and employees. 

“The Supreme Court has the final say on every legal case in America, so every justice must have the highest ethical standards to serve,” Bookbinder said. “Justice Thomas appears to have failed to uphold those standards and needs to be investigated immediately.” 

Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee also called on Roberts to launch an investigation into Thomas on Monday over the revelations on Thomas’s trips. They pledged to hold a hearing on the court’s ethical standards following the report.

Tags Clarence Thomas Clarence Thomas financial disclosure investigation John Roberts John Roberts Justice Department

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