() — US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas said Friday that he did not disclose luxury trips paid for by a Republican donor because he was advised at the time not to report them.
In a rare statement sent through the Supreme Court’s Office of Public Information, Thomas said that trips he and his wife, conservative activist Ginni Thomas, took with donor Harlan Crow and his wife, whom Thomas describes between the “dearest friends” of his family, were the “close personal friends type of personal hospitality”, which he was advised not to require disclosure.
Thomas’ travels with the Crow family, which included trips on the donor’s yacht and private jet, were the subject of a ProPublica report Posted this Thursday. Democratic congressmen have called for a investigation on the matter and a stricter code of ethics for judges, and some federal judges have also ruled on the matter.
Justice Thomas notes that the guidelines for reporting personal hospitality are recently modified.
“And, of course, it is my intention to follow these guidelines in the future,” Thomas said.
The ProPublica report describes how Thomas accepted hospitality from Crow, including lavish trips to Indonesia, New Zealand, California, Texas and Georgia. Some of these voyages appear to have included trips on Crow’s superyacht or stays at properties owned by Crow or his company.
Federal Judges Expose Their Concerns
The controversy has put the Judiciary in its sights, increasingly called upon to resolve disputes between the political branches of the Government.
As confirmation hearings have turned into political spectacles and hot-button cases over abortion, gun rights and religious freedom have broken ideological lines between conservatives and liberals, critics say the Supreme Court seems increasingly political.
It has also provoked a reaction from another section of the electorate that is rarely heard: federal judges who serve on the lower courts. Serving and retired federal judges rarely discuss internal affairs outside the confines of the courtroom, but they agreed to speak to on condition of anonymity.
A retired judge, a Republican appointee, told that the travel revelation infuriated him.
“This is precisely why public respect for the Supreme Court has plummeted,” said that judge.
“This is about much more than mere ethics violations. This is about the perceived legitimacy of the Supreme Court.”
The judiciary of the federal judicial system is made up of the nine judges that make up the highest court in the country, as well as 94 district-level trial courts and 13 appeal courts.
But another judge, also a Republican appointee, sided with Thomas in the dispute, saying the rules had been unclear and a commission from the Administrative Office of the US Courts had been working for months to clarify them. , posting the reviews recently.
“I’ve always thought this area was a bit confusing,” the judge said, adding that the rules regarding what constitutes “personal hospitality” in the rules had never been clarified until the new guidance went into effect on March 14. .
“Hospitality was never defined, and it was strange to think of a situation where you spend social time with a close friend where, at least occasionally, no means of transportation is involved,” the judge said. “If I’m going to spend a weekend with my friends, someone is going to take someone where we’re going.”
Another also sided with Thomas, saying that they had actually been told on two occasions that they had shared more information than necessary. “The Administrative Office of the United States Courts is concerned with consistency: they want the reports to look the same,” the judge said.
“They don’t want a situation where one judge communicates information that others don’t communicate,” the judge added.
“The new rules draw a line,” the judge said. “In the end, we are bound by whatever rules we have.”
There is no code of conduct for Supreme Court judges
Another government source with close ties to the judiciary said the dispute over Thomas concerns rules that apply to all federal judges, but, he says, it has also reignited a dispute over whether federal judges Supreme Court do not have a code of conduct that applies directly to them.
Currently, all lower court judges are required to abide by a code of conduct, but judges have so far refused to bind themselves to the current code or create one for themselves. The source said that the sentiment of the lower court judges they had spoken to was that they felt the judiciary as a whole was being tainted by the failure of the nine judges to adopt a code of conduct.
The source said the sentiment among some lower court judges is that it “makes us all look bad.”
In a 2011 report, Chief Justice John Roberts addressed critics who say the Judicial Conference’s Code of Conduct for United States Judges should apply to the Supreme Court.
He said that “Article III of the Constitution creates a single court, the Supreme Court of the United States.” This empowers Congress to establish additional lower courts. Roberts said the two bodies are different, so a code of conduct instituted by the Judicial Conference, which Congress created, could not apply to the highest court in the land.
Roberts admitted that members of the high court “consult” the code of conduct, as well as other materials, including advice from the court’s Legal Office. But, he concluded, the court has “no reason to adopt” a code of conduct.
“I have full confidence in the ability of my colleagues to determine when a recusal is warranted,” Roberts wrote at the time.
In a statement to ProPublica and , Crow said he has been friends with Thomas and his wife Ginni for more than 30 years, and that the hospitality he has extended to the judge over the years was “no different than the hospitality we have given to our many other dear friends.
“Judge Thomas and Ginni never asked for any of this hospitality,” Crow said in the statement. He said “we never ask about a pending or lower court case, and Judge Thomas has never discussed any.”
Thomas’ full statement:
“Harlan and Kathy Crow are among our dearest friends, and we have been friends for more than 25 years. As friends do, we have accompanied them on several family trips in the more than quarter century that we have known them.”
“Early in my tenure on the Tribunal, I sought advice from my colleagues and other members of the judiciary, and they advised me that this type of personal hospitality from close friends, who had no business to discuss with the Tribunal, was not reportable. I have endeavored to follow that advice throughout my tenure, and have always tried to adhere to disclosure guidelines.”
“These guidelines are being changed now, as the Judicial Conference committee responsible for financial disclosure for the entire federal judiciary just announced new guidelines last month. And of course, I intend to follow these guidelines in the future.” “.