A group of 16 congressional Democrats asked Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts to investigate the luxury trips that Justice Clarence Thomas has accepted from a major Republican donor for more than two decades.
Eight senators and eight representatives sent Roberts a letter on Friday to urge him to initiate an investigation into any unethical and “potentially unlawful” conduct that Thomas might have committed. The letter states that the court has “barely acknowledged” the allegations so far.
“We believe that it is your duty as Chief Justice ‘to safeguard public faith in the judiciary,’ and that fulfilling that duty requires swift, thorough, independent and transparent investigation into these allegations,” the letter reads.
ProPublica first reported on Thursday on the trips that Thomas has received over the years from billionaire Republican donor Harlan Crow, going on cruises on Crow’s yacht, flying on his private jet and engaging with Crow’s “powerful” friends at his private resort.
Crow is a Dallas-based real estate developer.
The outlet reported that some of these gifts are worth more than $500,000, but Thomas has not disclosed any of them during the years he received them.
Thomas said in response to the report that he was “advised” that he did not need to disclose any of the trips.
“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,” he said.
The letter from the Democrats states that finance disclosure laws require top officials, including Supreme Court justices, to annually report these types of gifts. It said “limited” exceptions exist for the law to allow officials to “enjoy hospitality in the course of ordinary, personal friendships” but not for them to “hide from the public extravagant gifts by wealthy political interests.”
The signers said an investigation should look into who accompanied Thomas on these trips. They said they “have reason to believe” that Crow is connected to multiple groups that have filed amicus briefs to the court, but the public does not know if anyone else on these trips had interests connected to Thomas’ “official duties.”
They said they will urge Congress to act to “restore ethics and accountability” on the court if Roberts does not act.
“It is well past time for the Supreme Court to align with the rest of government in a proper code of ethics enforced by independent investigation and reporting,” the letter states.