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The Epoch Times
The Epoch Times
8 Apr 2023

NextImg:'They Want to Destroy Him': Negative Coverage of Clarence Thomas Aims to Delegitimize Supreme Court, Says Attorney, Friend

A news report claiming conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas may have violated ethics rules by not disclosing accepting luxury vacations from his wealthy friend marks the left’s latest attempt to delegitimize the country’s highest court, according to attorney Mark Paoletta.

“They hate Clarence Thomas, and they want to destroy him, and they are trying to make his life miserable,” Paoletta, who is a friend of Thomas, told The Epoch Times. Paoletta represented Thomas’s wife, Ginni Thomas, during the House Jan. 6 panel investigation last year.

“This is all driven by the Democrats and the left-wing media, and activists, wanting to destroy the court, and delegitimize it, because they don’t like the opinions that they’re coming down with,” he added. The Supreme Court has a 6-3 conservative majority.

According to Paaoletta, recent cases before the U.S. Supreme Court that didn’t turn out favorably for those on the left—such as Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, in which the court overturned Roe v. Wade; and New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen, in which the court for the first time recognized a constitutional right to carry firearms in public for self-defense—has motivated their attacks.

ProPublica published an April 6 report alleging that Thomas accepted, and did not disclose on his annual financial statements, luxury vacations almost every year over the past 20 years from billionaire real-estate developer and Republican Party donor Harlan Crow, who is a friend of Thomas.

ProPublica is a left-leaning nonprofit funded by the preeminent Democratic Party donor, financier George Soros, through his Foundation to Promote Open Society. Soros has been criticized by conservatives for funding the election campaigns of various district attorneys who are soft on crime.

In response to the article, Thomas said that he had sought guidance from colleagues and “was advised that this sort of personal hospitality from close personal friends, who did not have business before the Court, was not reportable.” 

“I have endeavored to follow that counsel throughout my tenure, and have always sought to comply with the disclosure guidelines,” the justice said in an April 7 statement. 

Thomas noted that Crow and his wife “are among our dearest friends, and we have been friends for over twenty-five years.”

“As friends do, we have joined them on a number of family trips during the more than quarter century we have known them,” he added.

“Early in my tenure at the Court, 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,” Thomas said. 

ProPublica’s article sparked a swift response from nearly two dozen House and Senate Democrats, who have asked Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts to launch an investigation into Thomas.

“The Democrats in Congress are going after the Supreme Court to delegitimize it, to undermine it with this idea that it’s unethical,” Paoletta said, adding “There is no ethics problem or recusal problem at the Supreme Court.” 

The ProPublica article, citing several ethics lawyers, claimed that Thomas’s failure to report the flights and yachts he’d taken on the vacations from Crow “appears to violate” the Ethics in Government Act, a law intended to curb corruption among those in public office. The law, in part, requires federal judges and Supreme Court justices to file an annual financial disclosure report listing gifts they’d received, although there are exemptions for hospitality from friends, including food, accommodation, and entertainment.

The article also noted that recently updated filing guidance (pdf) for gifts for the judiciary had made explicit that the “personal hospitality” exemption did not include transportation. Further, accommodation at locations owned by private entities must be disclosed. The article said Thomas had failed to disclose these on his vacations taken with Crow.

But the ProPublica piece was “dishonest,” Paoletta said, because it failed to mention that the filing guidance was updated in mid-March. Thomas’s trips, however, were all made before the updates.

In Paoletta’s opinion, the statute’s language before the updated guidance was “broad enough in the interpretation over the years” to include transportation, such as Thomas’s flying on Crow’s jet, in the “personal hospitality” exemption.

Accordingly, Thomas “did nothing wrong,” he said. 

Paoletta cited Stephen Gillers, an expert on judicial ethics at New York University School of Law, who he believes is “very, very anti-Clarence Thomas.” Despite that, Gillers told NBC News: “In my view, before the recent amendments, the situation was sufficiently vague to give Thomas a basis to claim that reporting was not required. I think that such an interpretation would be a stretch … but the interpretation is plausible.”

Paoletta also noted a CNN article published on April 7 that cited two unnamed federal judges, pointing out that both of them agree with Thomas’s interpretation of the rules regarding personal hospitality. One judge cited by that article disagreed with Thomas’s interpretation.

Further, over the course of Thomas’s time on the bench, Crow and his company have not had any cases or business before the Supreme Court. “So it truly is a personal friendship that fits neatly under the personal hospitality exemption”—as opposed to a situation that could pose a conflict of interest, said Paoletta.

The Epoch Times contacted ProPublica for comment.

Paoletta argued that a double standard has been applied to conservative Supreme Court justices. 

“You don’t see any attacks on the liberal justices … The media, the Democrats are uninterested when it comes to them,” Paoletta said, noting how liberal justices have not received a similar level of scrutiny by Democrats in Congress.

He noted a 3-day trip disclosed by the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in mid-2018, where she received transportation, food, and lodging as a tourist and personal guest of billionaire Israeli businessman Morris Kahn. The court, earlier in November 2017, declined to take up a case against Kahn’s company Amdocs Limited.

Paoletta suggested that the timing of Ginsburg’s trip hosted by Kahn was “curious” given the court’s decision a year earlier regarding his firm. 

“These invites take time to come together. When did [Kahn] invite her, when did she accept?” he said. 

He added that he does not believe that Kahn was a personal friend of Ginsburg and, therefore, Ginsburg was required to disclose their meeting, which she did. 

“In stark contrast, Thomas and Crow have a genuine friendship and he has no business before Court. So no need to disclose under the personal hospitality rule. But the left is supposedly concerned that Thomas is going to nice places and undisclosed people have access to him,” he added. 

“This is all ridiculous, as no one had any problem with Ginsburg traveling around the Middle East and no doubt staying in nice places and meeting with undisclosed people who may have interests before the Court. 

“I have no problem with Ginsburg’s trips or other Justices’ trips, but please spare me the fake outrage about Justice Thomas.

“So it’s all this gaslighting and double standards of the media and the Democrats applying them to Justice Thomas.”

The left, according to Paoletta, has been going after Thomas for four decades. 

“Because he’s a black conservative who dares to have his own thoughts, and he is never bent to their attacks. It enrages them,” Paoletta said. 

“Originalist justices” like Thomas, he said, are “returning the court to its proper place in the American constitutional system” and steering the Supreme Court away from being a “super-legislature that tried to implement progressive laws.”

“The most egregious example being Roe v. Wade, where they found a right to abortion in the Constitution, which does not exist and should be left to the state legislatures,” the attorney said. 

Attacks on Thomas have persisted since he was nominated to the Supreme Court in 1991, he said. Paoletta had aided in Thomas’s confirmation during the George H. W. Bush administration.

“What enrages [those on the left] is that they tried to destroy Justice Thomas in 1991 and keep him off the Supreme Court. They failed, spectacularly. And then they tried to smear and demean him in racist attacks once he got on the court.”

But Thomas continued to develop and write “originalist opinions that were many times solo dissents and solo concurrences,” Paoletta said.

“And for 30 years, he’s done that, and he’s written over 700 opinions, and the Supreme Court has come his way. He’s the intellectual leader of the Supreme Court. He’s winning, and that further enrages the left.”

The Epoch Times contacted the House and Senate Judiciary Committees for comment.

Matthew Vadum contributed to this report.