Democrats Demand DOJ Investigation on Justice Clarence Thomas: The Target of a Political Hit Job?

Five Democrats have requested Attorney General Merrick Garland in Congress to investigate allegations that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas accepted gifts from conservative billionaires.

Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Hank Johnson (D-GA), and Ted Lieu (D-CA) signed the letter on August 11.

After a series of articles were published by the left-leaning news organization ProPublica in recent months, lawmakers demanded that the Department of Justice investigate whether or not Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas had broken the law by failing to disclose gifts he had received from billionaires like Harlan Crow and others for nearly two decades.

According to a report by ProPublica, published on August 10, Justice Thomas has surreptitiously benefited from a network of affluent and well-connected supporters much larger than previously known.

At least 38 different trips were noted in the report, including a yacht trip around the Bahamas that had not been publicized before, 26 private jet flights and eight more by helicopter, a dozen VIP passes to professional and college sporting events, typically for the skybox, two stays at luxury resorts in Florida and Jamaica, and one standing invitation to an ultra-exclusive golf club overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

Justice Thomas’s lavish lifestyle is well beyond what his salary would support, thanks to the gifts he has received, which include several million dollars in unannounced vacations since he joined the court in 1991.

In particular, Democrats are outraged that Mr. Crow, a wealthy Republican supporter, lavished gifts on Justice Thomas, including expensive vacations and college funding for a grandnephew he raised. Crow has also bought inexpensive property from the Justice’s family.

The letter claimed that over at least fifteen years, Justice Thomas had received multiple significant gifts from Harlan Crow that he had failed to report on his financial disclosure forms, despite having repeatedly certified that they were “accurate, true, and complete” in a manner “subject to civil and criminal sanctions.”

Democrats assert that all judicial officers, including the Supreme Court Justices, are required by the federal Ethics in Government Act to file annual reports identifying their financial income, gifts and reimbursements, property interests, liabilities, and transactions.

The letter said that no one should be exempt from the consequences of breaching the law, regardless of their status.

Republican fundraiser and activist Mr. Crow called an April ProPublica article on Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas a ‘political hit job.’

Justice Thomas stated in April that he had made every effort to follow the disclosure rules. He added that early in his tenure on the Supreme Court, he was advised that entertaining close friends who did not have business before the Court did not need him to file a disclosure.

Experts on the law are split on whether or not Supreme Court justices are required to disclose gifts under the Ethics in Government Act, despite claims by certain lawyers cited by ProPublica.

Since the United States Constitution established the Supreme Court and not by Congress, these legal experts argue lawmakers have no authority to restrict Justices’ ability to have affluent, generous friends.

These legal experts also claim that Justice Thomas has not taken part in any cases involving his donors; therefore, there is no appearance of conflict. 

Democrats, on the contrary, claim that Justice Thomas’s acceptance of gifts demonstrates his corruption even though they cannot provide evidence of a quid pro quo.

The letter was written after a plan to overhaul the Supreme Court’s ethics was adopted by a party-line vote of 11-10 on July 20 in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which the Democrats control. When the whole Senate will vote on the bill remains to be seen.

The Republican Party opposes the bill because they believe it violates the Constitution. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) argued that the bill’s real purpose was to intimidate and harass the Supreme Court.

At the legislation’s hearing on July 20, its primary supporter, Democratic Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, argued that special interests had captured the court. Even if the bill passes the Democratic-controlled Senate, it faces a trying battle in the Republican-controlled House.

Republicans have said that Democrats only want to take action against the court because the six-member conservative-leaning majority has been making decisions that Democrats find disagreeable and not because they want to load the court with liberal justices.