Supreme Court

Justice Clarence Thomas confirms getting lavish trips from billionaire

The trips raise questions over ethics rules that apparently allowed the Supreme Court justice to go on vacations well beyond his means.

Justice Clarence Thomas confirms getting lavish trips from billionaire
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas issued a statement Friday confirming a ProPublica report that he went on lavish globe-trotting trips on the dime of a wealthy Republican donor. 

ProPublica said Thomas did not report the trips as gifts. In a statement, Thomas said he sought guidance and was told he did not need to report the vacations. 

“Harlan and Kathy Crow are among our dearest friends, and we have been friends for over twenty-five years,” Thomas said. As friends do, we have joined them on a number of family trips during the more than quarter century we have known them. 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.”

The ProPublica report said Thomas used a private jet to fly to Indonesia to board a yacht staffed by a private chef. The outlet reported that had Thomas paid for this trip on his own, it would have cost over $500,000. 

ProPublica noted that the salary for a Supreme Court justice is $285,000. Given his career in public service, going on such trips would be well beyond his means. 

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The report drew the ire of Senate Democrats. Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin, D-Ill., vowed to take action. 

“The highest court in the land shouldn’t have the lowest ethical standards,” Durbin said. “Today’s ProPublica report reveals that Justice Thomas has for years accepted luxury travel on private yachts and jets and a litany of other gifts that he failed to disclose. This behavior is simply inconsistent with the ethical standards the American people expect of any public servant, let alone a Justice on the Supreme Court.”

ProPublica reports that Thomas has accepted trips from Harlan Crow for more than 20 years without disclosing them. 

In a statement to the publication, Crow said that he and his wife have been friends with Thomas and his wife, Ginni, since 1996. Crow rebuffed any suggestion that the trips were offered in exchange for anything from Thomas. 

"We have never asked about a pending or lower court case, and Justice Thomas has never discussed one, and we have never sought to influence Justice Thomas on any legal or political issue," Crow said. 

Thomas was seated on the Supreme Court in 1991. 

Rep. Hank Johnson, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, was among the Democrats who introduced the Supreme Court Ethics Recusal and Transparency Act. The act would require Supreme Court justices and staff to have the same gift reporting rules as members of Congress. 

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Congress allows members and staff to receive gifts of over $250 from personal friends, but they must seek committee approval before accepting. 

“These are men and women who, though they are officials on the highest court of the land, they are not above the law,” Johnson said. “And they should be subject to the same disclosure rules and rules of ethics that members of Congress and members of the executive branch are bound to.”

According to the government watchdog database OpenSecrets, Crow has made over $20 million in political contributions, mostly with GOP donors.