Over the last 20 years, Justice Clarence Thomas failed to disclose luxury vacations and other gifts given to him by rightwing billionaire Harlan Crow.
Last week, a ProPublica investigation revealed stunning news that demonstrated the Supreme Court’s corruption problem is worse than previously imagined. The investigation uncovered that over the last 20 years, Justice Clarence Thomas failed to disclose luxury vacations and other gifts given to him by rightwing billionaire Harlan Crow. Long a supporter of moving the judiciary to the right, Crow has donated to and supported Club for Growth and the Federalist Society, and sits on the board of two conservative think tanks, the American Enterprise Institute and the Hoover Institution. The gifts he gave Thomas were lavish, including a $19,000 bible which belonged to Frederick Douglass and a vacation in 2019 valued around $500,000. Under the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, justices must disclose gifts if their value is more than $415—yet none of Harlan Crow’s many gifts appear on Thomas’s annual financial disclosures. This is an extraordinary example of corruption, and one that cannot go unaddressed.
While Justice Thomas’s actions are particularly egregious, they are part of a long pattern of justices with deep ties to wealthy, far-right donors who use their money to influence politicians and officials to promote their agendas. Last year it was revealed that Faith and Action, a conservative evangelical advocacy group, spent decades wining and dining Justices Thomas, Samuel Alito, and the late Antonin Scalia to push regressive views on abortion, LGBTQ rights, and gun control. Other examples include the lucrative speaking gigs justices partake in with the Federalist Society and conservative legal organizations.
These lavish gifts from conservative donors cannot be divorced from the brazen decisions that Thomas and other members of the Court's ultraconservative supermajority have made.
These lavish gifts from conservative donors cannot be divorced from the brazen decisions that Thomas and other members of the Court's ultraconservative supermajority have made to roll back our voting rights, eliminate the constitutional right to abortion, and frustrate our ability to fight climate change, among others. These gifts, and the influence and access that come with them, are part of the multidecade, multibillion-dollar campaign conservatives have waged to capture the federal judiciary and enact the radical, unpopular policy changes they failed to win in Congress—the far more democratic branch of government. These justices continue to prove that they are beholden to the ultrarich and corporations and are a threat to an inclusive, multiracial democracy and economy.
Congress cannot hesitate to investigate this matter and take action to prevent rightwing megadonors from further corrupting the judicial system.
First, the Senate Judiciary Committee must open an investigation to expose the full extent of Thomas’s corruption and lawbreaking. It is important that these revelations not be swept under the rug, even though the makeup of the Senate means impeachment or further repercussions are unlikely.
Second, Congress must pass the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency Act (SCERT), a bill that brings the Supreme Court’s code of ethics in line with that of other federal government officials. Unlike other federal judges, Supreme Court justices have no binding code of conduct, which allows the justices to receive lavish gifts and be wined and dined with no accountability to the public.
Justice Thomas’s misconduct is just one symptom of a larger problem that ethics reform alone will not solve.
Finally, Congress must expand the Supreme Court by four seats. Justice Thomas’s misconduct is just one symptom of a larger problem that ethics reform alone will not solve. These justices have systematically dismantled civil rights and worker protections to push a pro-corporate agenda, all to the detriment of Black and brown people. Expanding the court would mitigate the decades of far-right takeover and be the first step to recreating the institution so it serves the people, not corporations and the ultrarich.