court reform

FFRF Action: Thomas’ lapses demand court reform


In the wake of damaging exposés about Justice Clarence Thomas’ ethics lapses, the FFRF Action Fund calls on Congress to take immediate action to pass the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal and Transparency Act. The bill, introduced by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., would help restore the integrity of the Supreme Court by implementing ethical standards that ensure transparency and accountability. 

Just yesterday, the Washington Post reported in a new exposé that Thomas has a pattern of filing misstatements on a family business.

This adds to recent revelations by ProPublica about Thomas’ relationship with conservative megadonor and Texas realtor Harlan Crow — involving decades of undisclosed luxury gifts — that should be deeply troubling to all Americans, including members of Congress. For two decades, ProPublica reports, Thomas and his wife have vacationed at the ultraelite Camp Topridge resort in the Adirondacks every summer, rubbing shoulders with wealthy businessmen, Republican donors and think tanks. Since meeting Thomas after his confirmation to the high court, Crow has given him a number of gifts, such as a $19,000-valued bible owned by Frederick Douglass (a gift Thomas disclosed). 

Among the undisclosed gifts the Thomases have received from Crow or his companies are all-expenses-paid trips around the world on Crow’s “superyacht,” including to Indonesia, and an extended cruise in New Zealand, along with private jet rides. ProPublica identified five jet trips, including an occasion when Crow traveled with Thomas to a Catholic cemetery in New York City to witness the unveiling of a statue “to the justice’s beloved eighth-grade teacher, a nun.”

According to ProPublica, justices are generally required to report any gift worth more than $415 that isn’t fully reimbursed, with a few exceptions. Transportation is required to be reported.

Just last week, ProPublica revealed that in 2014, a company owned by the billionaire spent $133,363 to purchase from Thomas and relatives several properties in Savannah, Ga., including an old single-story home and two vacant lots. Crow’s company then did a series of improvements on the home where Thomas’ 94-year-old mother still lives.

“A federal disclosure law passed after Watergate requires justices and other officials to disclose the details of most real estate sales over $1,000,” reports ProPublica. “Thomas never disclosed his sale of the Savannah properties. That appears to be a violation of the law.” 

On top of all this, Thomas failed to recuse himself, much less divulge in advance of voting on related issues, that his wife Ginni was involved with the White House campaign seeking to overturn the 2020 presidential election. The New York Times had disclosed in 2011 the fact that Crow gave half a million to a Tea Party group founded by Ginni Thomas, and also had paid her a salary of $120,000.

Compounding the distasteful situation is Thomas’ disingenuous attitude in an interview for a documentary about his life that Crow helped finance, in which Thomas declaimed: “I prefer the RV parks. I prefer the Walmart parking lots to the beaches and things like that.”

Crow, according to ProPublica, “has spent millions on ideological efforts to shape the law and the judiciary,” and is heavily suspected to be deeply involved in the conservative capture of the courts.

FFRF Action also supports court expansion, including adding two to four associate justices to the Supreme Court and the long overdue expansion of lower court judgeships.

“As Citizens for Responsibility & Ethics in Washington has pointed out in its complaint against Thomas, no one is above the law,” says FFRF Action Fund President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “But Thomas will continue to behave above the law until Congress reforms the unaccountable Supreme Court, and makes justices conform to the same ethical regulations that apply to all other federal judges.”

Note about image: The painting, which is displayed at Camp Topridge, which is owned by a company related to Harlan Crow, depicts from left: lawyers Peter Rutledge, Leonard Leo of the Federalist Society, Mark Paoletta, Thomas and Crow.

FFRF Action Fund is a 501(c)(4) organization that develops and advocates for legislation, regulations and government programs to preserve the constitutional principle of separation between state and church. It also advocates for the rights and views of nonbelievers, endorses candidates for political office, and publicizes the views of elected officials concerning religious liberty issues.