Clarence Thomas, a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, departed for Indonesia on a sizable private aircraft at the end of June 2019, immediately following the publication of the court’s final opinion of the term.
His wife and he were taking a nine-day vacation that involved island-hopping in a volcanic archipelago on a superyacht with a small entourage of attendants and a personal chef.
The vacation may have cost more than $500,000 if Thomas had chartered the yacht and the jet himself. Lucky for him, he wasn’t required to do that because he was on vacation with Republican megadonor and real estate tycoon Harlan Crow, who also owned the yacht and the jet.
According to documentation and interviews, Thomas has accepted lavish trips from the Dallas billionaire for more than 20 years without declaring them. He works for the government and makes $285,000. He has traveled the world aboard Crow’s superyacht.
He uses Crow’s Bombardier Global 5000 aircraft to fly. He has visited Crow’s expansive ranch in East Texas as well as the upscale all-male resort in California known as the Bohemian Grove with Crow. And each summer, Thomas usually spends approximately a week at Crow’s exclusive property in the Adirondacks.
A tweet from news agency ProPublica about Harlan Crow providing luxury trips and gifts to justice Clarence Thomas.
There is no precedence in the recent history of the U.S. Supreme Court for the magnitude and regularity of Crow’s apparent presents to Thomas.
No mention of these travels could be found in Thomas’ financial reports. According to two ethics law experts, his refusal to declare the trips appears to be a violation of a Watergate-era law requiring most gifts from judges, members of Congress, and government employees to be disclosed. Some experts added that he ought to have mentioned his trips aboard the yacht.
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Thomas didn’t reply to a long number of inquiries.
Crow acknowledged in a statement that he had shown the Thomas family “hospitality” throughout the years, but claimed that Thomas had never requested any of it and that it was “no different from the hospitality we have offered to our many other beloved friends.”
Crow has obtained a special kind of access because to his generosity by spending days alone with one of the most influential persons in the nation. Thomas violated established standards for judicial behavior by taking the trips, according to ethics experts and four active or retired federal judges.
Nancy Gertner, a former federal judge nominated by President Bill Clinton, remarked, “It’s inconceivable to me that someone would do this.”
It was a matter of not wanting to use the office for anything other than what it was intended for, according to Gertner, who said she was so conscious of appearances while on the bench that she wouldn’t disclose her title when making dinner reservations.
Thomas “seems to have entirely disregarded his higher ethical obligations,” according to Virginia Canter, a veteran government ethics lawyer who worked in both partisan administrations.
Canter, who is now with the watchdog group CREW, declared that it “certainly corrodes public trust” when a justice’s lifestyle is supported by the wealthy and famous. I must admit that it makes my heart sink.
By using flight records, internal documents provided to Crow’s employees, and interviews with numerous people, including the crew of his superyacht, members of the exclusive Bohemian Club, and an Indonesian scuba diving instructor, ProPublica was able to piece together the specifics of Thomas’ travel.
Judges at the federal level hold a special position of public trust. They are protected from the demands and potential corruption of politics by having lifetime tenure, a benefit.
Federal justices below the Supreme Court are bound by a rule of conduct that forbids them from even giving the “appearance of impropriety.” Chief Justice John Roberts stated that members of the high court “consult” that code for direction. The Supreme Court is mostly left to regulate itself.
There aren’t many limitations on the presents that judges may take. As opposed to the other branches of the government, this. Members of Congress are typically forbidden from accepting gifts worth $50 or more, and many of the trips Thomas has gotten from Crow would require prior ethics committee clearance.
Public interest in Thomas’ ethical stance has already been generated. Thomas didn’t withdraw himself from proceedings that involved his wife Ginni’s involvement in campaigns to void the 2020 presidential election last year. Although his choice was controversial, there was no way to challenge it.
After Thomas became a justice, Crow got to know him. Those who know both men say that they have developed a true friendship. Some information regarding Crow’s association with the Thomases has come to light over time. The New York Times covered Crow’s kindness to the legal system in 2011.
In the same year, Politico exposed Crow’s donation of $500,000 to Ginni Thomas’s Tea Party organization, which also paid her a $120,000 salary. But, the extent of Crow’s generosity has never been made public.
Crow has long been a prominent player in pro-business conservatism and has poured millions of dollars into efforts to influence the law and the judiciary. Since Thomas joined the Supreme Court, Crow and his company have not had a case before it, despite the fact that the court occasionally hears significant issues that have a direct bearing on the real estate sector.
It is uncertain what exactly was discussed with Thomas over the years, and it is also unknown whether Crow’s opinions on various issues have had any impact on the justice’s opinions.
Crow said in his statement that neither he nor his wife had ever brought up a current or earlier court issue with Thomas. He continued, “We have never attempted to sway Justice Thomas on any legal or political subject.
Over the years, Thomas has presented himself as an everyday person with unpretentious tastes in his public appearances.
In a recent interview for a documentary on his life, which Crow helped finance, Thomas stated, “I don’t have any trouble travelling to Europe, but I like the United States, and I love visiting the ordinary parts of the United States.
“I like RV parks more. I like Walmart parking lots better than beaches and similar places. I find it to be fairly typical,” Thomas remarked. I prefer that – I prefer being around that — because I come from regular stock.
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