Clarence Thomas Defends His Non-Reporting of Luxe Trips

Supreme Court justice says he didn't disclose 'hospitality' of friend because he was advised it wasn't necessary
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 7, 2023 11:10 AM CDT
Clarence Thomas Responds to Report on Luxury Travel
Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas.   (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Clarence Thomas issued a rare statement Friday in which he says that he did not report years' worth of luxury travel paid for by real estate magnate Harlan Crow because he didn't think he had to under existing laws, reports CNN. Thomas describes Crow and wife Kathy as among his oldest and "dearest friends" and acknowledged that ProPublica's report is accurate: Thomas said he and wife Ginny have indeed "joined them on a number of family trips during the more than quarter century we have known them." But as to the allegations that he improperly failed to disclose the paid travel:

  • “Early in my tenure at the Court, I sought guidance from my colleagues and others in the judiciary, and was advised that this sort of personal hospitality from close personal friends, who did not have business before the Court, was not reportable. I have endeavored to follow that counsel throughout my tenure, and have always sought to comply with the disclosure guidelines. These guidelines are now being changed, as the committee of the Judicial Conference responsible for financial disclosure for the entire federal judiciary just this past month announced new guidance. And, it is, of course, my intent to follow this guidance in the future.”

As lots of stories have pointed out, the Supreme Court is largely left to police itself on such ethical matters. But the ProPublica piece did point out some iffy areas for Thomas: "His failure to report the flights (on private jets) 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." At Slate, Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern previously weighed in on this: The "rules governing Thomas’ conduct over these years, while terribly insufficient, actually did require him to disclose at least some of these extravagant gifts. The fact that he ignored the rules anyway illustrates just how difficult it will be to force the justices to obey the law: Without the strong threat of enforcement, a putative public servant like Thomas will thumb his nose at the law."

The Washington Post, meanwhile, elaborates on the new rules referenced by Thomas in his statement: "The federal courts’ policymaking body, the Judicial Conference, last month quietly adopted new rules requiring justices to provide a fuller accounting of free trips, meals and other gifts they accept from corporations or other organizations." The rules were meant to specifically tighten the “personal hospitality” exemption mentioned by Thomas. (Thomas has reported only two gifts since 2004.)

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