ProPublica Report Raises Supreme Court Ethics Concerns

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (he/him) is under fire after his relationship with billionaire Harlan Crowe (he/him) has raised ethical concerns. On April 6th, the investigative journalism nonprofit ProPublica published a report that revealed Thomas took vacations with Crow worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. A trip to Indonesia in 2019 would have cost the justice over $500,000, according to the article. Thomas did not reveal these trips in his mandated financial disclosures to the Court. 

Crow is a prominent conservative donor. According to Transparency USA, his investment firm Crow Holdings donated over $3 million dollars to Republican campaigns. Reuters reported that he also donated $500,000 to Liberty Central, a conservative advocacy group created by Thomas’ wife Ginni Thomas (she/her).  

Thomas defended the trips, stating that he “was advised that this sort of personal hospitality from close personal friends, who did not have business before the Court, was not reportable.” The Court’s internal policy was updated recently to require reporting of gifts from personal friends, but federal law does make exceptions for “social hospitality based on personal relationships.” However, the scandal surrounding Thomas has led some to question if stricter ethics laws are needed. 

On April 13th, ProPublica published an additional report detailing another financial relationship between Thomas and Crow. It found that a real estate company owned by Crow purchased three properties co-owned by Thomas for $133,363 dollars. Thomas did not disclose the purchase. This presents a clearer case of Thomas potentially violating the law, specifically the Ethics in Government Act of 1978. Under the law, government officials (including justices) are required to disclose property sales over $1,000.  

While the Court is not an explicitly partisan body, Thomas is known for being one of the most conservative justices. The scandal has attracted condemnation from Democrats. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI, he/him) has called for the Attorney General to investigate Thomas, while Representative Alexandra Ocasio Cortez (D-NY, she/her) told CNN she believes he should be impeached. In a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts (he/him), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee Dick Durbin (D-IL, he/him) said the committee will hold a hearing “regarding the need to restore confidence in the Supreme Court’s ethical standards” and urged the Court to investigate itself. 

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