U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has recently come under fire over revelations that he failed to disclose certain gifts he and his wife received together from his longtime friend, Dallas billionaire businessman Harlan Crow. The gifts reportedly consisted of being hosted on Crow’s private plane, yacht, and vacation resort on numerous occasions.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D – NY) and her fellow “Squad” members quickly termed the omissions a “very serious problem” warranting an investigation in the House of Representatives. “If Republicans … decide to protect those who are breaking the law then they are responsible for that decision, but we should not be complicit in that,” she said.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D – RI), a leader in the drive to challenge the legitimacy of conservative justices, said he would call on the policymaking body for the federal courts to refer Justice Thomas to the attorney general for his “apparent brazen disregard for government ethics laws.”
The attack on Justice Thomas seems to us like just the latest salvo in the progressive Left’s continuing effort to course-correct the Supreme Court’s rightward leanings, this time by forcing its most Conservative member off the Court before his time.
The current controversy was triggered 10 days ago by a breathless article on the Crow trips and other amenities provided to the Thomases, published by the investigative journalism website ProPublica. The article cited criticism of the gifting by anonymous “experts.”
Ed Whelan, writing in the National Review, was the first to substantively challenge the ProPublica piece. As Whelan pointed out, while the article made an interesting case for what the disclosure rules perhaps should be, most readers likely seized upon the article’s claim that Justice Thomas ”appears to have violated” existing disclosure obligations. ProPublica’s reporters seemed to have “cherry-picked little-known and unnamed ‘experts’ to present a false and damning clarity on the matter,” he wrote.
While ProPublica flat-out asserts that, according to its experts, an exemption in the disclosure rules “never” applied to private jet flights, it also incongruously says that this “fact … was made explicit in recently updated filing instructions for the judiciary.” But they were still off the mark:
On March 29, 2023, several days before ProPublica article appeared and well after the Crow gifts made to Thomas, The New York Times published an article titled “Justices Must Disclose Travel and Gifts Under New Rules.” The Times reported that Supreme Court justices will be required to disclose more of their activities, including some free trips, air travel and other types of gifts, according to rules adopted earlier this month. Under the new rules, justices and other federal judges must report travel by private jet, as well as stays at commercial properties such as hotels, resorts or hunting lodges.
Similarly, on March 28, 2023, The Washington Post had reported that new rules “clarify that judges must report travel by private jet,” noting that the previous rules “had not clearly defined the exemption for gifts considered ‘personal hospitality’” and that the “revised rules addressed that ambiguity.”
“For many years, a loophole that allowed Supreme Court Justices to avoid disclosing certain gifts – including travel – funded by friends was apparently big enough to fly a jet through,” a more recent NBC News article noted. “The federal judiciary just last month announced in a letter to lawmakers that it had tightened its rules for what judges and justices need to include in annual financial disclosure statements.”
In sum, we can understand why leaders on the progressive Left (or wannabes) would want to see the staunchly conservative Thomas off the Supreme Court. This is still America, however, and that crowd should respect our time-honored presumptions of innocence and make sure they get their facts straight – even if there is a political cost to it.