U.S. Supreme Court

Justice Thomas cruises on yachts and flies on private jets, thanks to billionaire GOP donor, report says

  • Print

GettyImages-Clarence Thomas October 2022

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas poses for an official portrait in the Supreme Court building Oct. 7, 2022, in Washington, D.C. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

Updated: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has been hobnobbing with billionaire Republican megadonor Harlan Crow, who has showered Thomas and his wife with gifts of luxury travel for more than two decades, according to an investigative report by ProPublica.

Thomas has traveled on Crow’s superyacht, flown on his private jet, and stayed at his private resort in the Adirondacks in upstate New York and his ranch in Texas, according to the publication.

“These trips appeared nowhere on Thomas’ financial disclosures,” according to ProPublica.

Thomas said in a statement Friday he was following advice when he did not report the trips on financial disclosure forms, the Washington Post reports.

“Early in my tenure at the court,” he said, “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.”

In 2019, Thomas and his wife, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, flew on Crow’s private jet to Indonesia and then boarded Crow’s yacht for nine days of island cruising. They would have had to pay about $500,000 for such a vacation if Crow hadn’t footed the bill, according to ProPublica.

Ethics experts told ProPublica that Thomas’ failure to disclose the jet flights may have violated a Watergate-era law on gift disclosures. They also thought that Thomas should have disclosed the yacht trips. But in the past, justices haven’t had to report free food and lodging supplied by friends or family members.

The reporting requirements are changing, however, as a result of new regulations adopted by the U.S. Judicial Conference in March.

Now, federal judges and Supreme Court justices must report free accommodations at commercial properties that are paid for by third parties who are not relatives, according to Gabe Roth, executive director of the nonpartisan judicial watchdog group Fix the Court, in posts here and here.

Thomas said in his statement he would follow the new guidance.

Roth said the judiciary should go further to require preapproval of sponsored trips and disclosure within 30 days of the trip.

“The astounding reporting from ProPublica leads to a conclusion we’ve all come to expect: The Supreme Court is the least accountable part of our government, and nothing is going to change without a wholesale, lawmaker-led reimagining of its responsibilities when it comes to basic measures of oversight,” Roth said.

ProPublica pieced together Thomas’ free travel by examining flight records and internal documents distributed to Crow’s employees. The publication also interviewed staff members and others associated with the trips.

Crow said in a statement the hospitality extended to the Thomases isn’t different from hospitality extended to other friends. Thomas never asked for free vacations, and Crow has never sought to influence Thomas’ views, Crow said.

“We have never asked about a pending or lower court case, and Justice Thomas has never discussed one,” the statement said. “We have never sought to influence Justice Thomas on any legal or political issue. More generally, I am unaware of any of our friends ever lobbying or seeking to influence Justice Thomas on any case, and I would never invite anyone who I believe had any intention of doing that. These are gatherings of friends.”

While Crow has spent millions of dollars on efforts to reshape the law and the judiciary, he and his real estate company have not had a case before the Supreme Court since Thomas became a justice.

See also:

ABA Journal: “A binding code of ethics for SCOTUS justices is needed to protect the court’s credibility, delegates say”

Updated April 7 at 11:05 a.m. to include U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ statement.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.