Conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has been accepting luxury trips from a Dallas businessman for decades without publicly disclosing them, according to a recent media report by ProPublica. The report has sparked calls for an investigation from Senate Democrats, as the undisclosed gifts seem to violate federal law. The trips provided by Harlan Crow, a real estate magnate, and Republican donor, have “no known precedent in the modern history of the U.S. Supreme Court,” raising concerns about potential conflicts of interest and the court’s ethical standards.
ProPublica’s investigation found that Thomas has vacationed with Crow multiple times, utilizing his private jet and superyacht to travel around the United States and the globe. Despite this, Thomas and Chief Justice John Roberts have not commented on the report.
Crow defended his relationship with Thomas in a statement to ProPublica, explaining that they have been friends since 1996 and that he has never sought to influence justice on any legal or political issue. Nevertheless, the report has prompted calls for increased scrutiny of the Supreme Court’s ethics and conduct.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin emphasized the need for the justices to be held to an enforceable code of conduct, similar to other federal judges. Durbin criticized the court for having “the lowest ethical standards,” and promised that his panel “will act” based on the report, though he did not provide specifics.
Democratic U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse echoed these concerns, calling on Chief Justice Roberts to ensure a thorough investigation is conducted. Gabe Roth, leader of the reform group Fix the Court, further advocated for a “reimagining” of the court’s oversight responsibilities.
This report follows previous revelations that have raised concerns about Justice Thomas’s ethics. His wife, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, was reported to be involved in efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election results, and Thomas himself did not recuse himself from election-related cases. Legal ethics experts cited by ProPublica argue that Thomas’s failure to disclose the gifts provided by Crow violates federal law, which requires justices, judges, and other federal officials to report most gifts. The ongoing calls for investigation and increased oversight underscore the growing scrutiny surrounding the Supreme Court and its ethical practices.
Thomas, perhaps the court’s most conservative member, joined the bench for a lifetime appointment in October 1991 after being nominated by Republican President George H.W. Bush.