A bombshell report in ProPublica reveals that almost every year for two decades plus, a billionaire Republican donor has taken U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas on his private jet and yacht or hosted him on his luxury East Texas ranch or at his private resort in the Adirondacks. And Thomas has reported exactly none of Harlan Crow ‘s generosity on his financial disclosure forms required of high-level public employees.
The showering of gifts on an official who participates in the nation’s most consequential legal decisions — and the keeping in the dark of the public about such largesse — is a four-alarm fire for the integrity of the top court.
Thomas makes decent money as an associate justice: $285,400. He collects another few thousand here or there through affiliations with two law schools, which he makes public. His wife Ginni, a player in right-wing politics, has a pretty healthy consulting practice that could be the subject of a separate editorial. (Thomas has in the past failed to disclose that income.)
This is not to say that the couple could necessarily pay their own way on each and every pricey jaunt, just that they’re not paupers, and that in any event, a justice on America’s highest court must have the, er, judgment either to refuse potentially compromising generosity — or to report it so the public can be fully aware of its potential impact on his work.
Federal rules require all judges, including members of the Supremes, to publicly disclose “anything of value” they receive that’s worth more than $415. There are exceptions, but private jet trips and jaunts on yachts are not among them.
Sheldon Whitehouse, the Senate’s most dogged court-watcher, has demanded and won tighter Judicial Conference rules requiring far more disclosure of hospitality gifts to the justices. Enforce them. Then, the high court must finally, finally adopt an enforceable code of conduct. The most powerful judges in the land shouldn’t be exempt from ethics standards like those that apply to all the federal jurists beneath them.