The Mahablog

Politics. Society. Group Therapy.

The Mahablog

It’s Nice to Own a Supreme Court Justice

ProPublica has a wowzer of a Clarence Thomas story. If this checks out, it’s massive.

IN LATE JUNE 2019, right after the U.S. Supreme Court released its final opinion of the term, Justice Clarence Thomas boarded a large private jet headed to Indonesia. He and his wife were going on vacation: nine days of island-hopping in a volcanic archipelago on a superyacht staffed by a coterie of attendants and a private chef.

If Thomas had chartered the plane and the 162-foot yacht himself, the total cost of the trip could have exceeded $500,000. Fortunately for him, that wasn’t necessary: He was on vacation with real estate magnate and Republican megadonor Harlan Crow, who owned the jet — and the yacht, too.

For more than two decades, Thomas has accepted luxury trips virtually every year from the Dallas businessman without disclosing them, documents and interviews show. A public servant who has a salary of $285,000, he has vacationed on Crow’s superyacht around the globe. He flies on Crow’s Bombardier Global 5000 jet. He has gone with Crow to the Bohemian Grove, the exclusive California all-male retreat, and to Crow’s sprawling ranch in East Texas. And Thomas typically spends about a week every summer at Crow’s private resort in the Adirondacks.

The extent and frequency of Crow’s apparent gifts to Thomas have no known precedent in the modern history of the U.S. Supreme Court.

These trips appeared nowhere on Thomas’ financial disclosures. His failure to report the flights appears to violate a law passed after Watergate that requires justices, judges, members of Congress and federal officials to disclose most gifts, two ethics law experts said. He also should have disclosed his trips on the yacht, these experts said.

Justice Thomas has not responded to requests for comments. Harlan Crow says this was just “hospitality,” not a bribe. This is just stuff he does for all his friends. Other high-level judges who commented for this article are pretty much gobsmacked.

Long an influential figure in pro-business conservative politics, Crow has spent millions on ideological efforts to shape the law and the judiciary. Crow and his firm have not had a case before the Supreme Court since Thomas joined it, though the court periodically hears major cases that directly impact the real estate industry. The details of his discussions with Thomas over the years remain unknown, and it is unclear if Crow has had any influence on the justice’s views.

In his statement, Crow said that he and his wife have never discussed a pending or lower court case with Thomas. “We have never sought to influence Justice Thomas on any legal or political issue,” he added.

The Washington Post has not independently confirmed ProPublica’s reporting, but adds some commentary.

Federal law mandates that top officials from the three branches of government, including the Supreme Court, file annual forms detailing their finances, outside income and spouses’ sources of income, with each branch determining its own reporting standards.

Judges are prohibited from accepting gifts from anyone with business before the court. Until recently, however, the judicial branch had not clearly defined an exemption for gifts considered “personal hospitality.”

Revised rules adopted by a committee of the Judicial Conference, the courts’ policymaking body, seek to provide a fuller accounting. The rules took effect March 14.

Gifts such as an overnight stay at a personal vacation home owned by a friend remain exempt from reporting requirements. But the revised rules require disclosure when judges are treated to stays at commercial properties, such as hotels, ski resorts or corporate hunting lodges. The changes also clarify that judges must report travel by private jet.

So, whether Thomas’s acceptance of “hospitality” strictly violated rules in place at the time is uncertain.

Congressional Democrats are calling for Thomas to resign, which of course he will not. Dick Durban says the Senate Judiciary Committee will take action.

Update: From Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern (boldface added):

We will doubtless spend a few news cycles expressing outrage that Harlan Crow has spent millions of dollars lavishing the Thomases with lux vacations and high-end travel and barely pretended to separate business and pleasure,giving half a million dollars to a Tea Party group founded by Ginni Thomas in 2011 (which funded her own $120,000 salary). But because the justices are left to police themselves and opt not to do so, we will turn to other matters in due time. Before the outrage dries up, however, it is worth zeroing in on two aspects of the ProPublica report that do have lasting legal implications. First, the same people who benefited from the lax status quo continue to fight against any meaningful reforms that might curb the justices’ gravy train. Second, the rules governing Thomas’ conduct over these years, while terribly insufficient, actually did require him to disclose at least some of these extravagant gifts. The fact that he ignored the rules anyway illustrates just how difficult it will be to force the justices to obey the law: Without the strong threat of enforcement, a putative public servant like Thomas will thumb his nose at the law.

It’s worth reading the whole thing. If you run into the Slate paywall  you should be able to read the article in an incognito window.

In other news: The Dominion defamation trial will begin April 17. David Kurtz at Talking Points Memo gives us the potential witness list:

  • Rupert Murdoch
  • Lachlan Murdoch
  • Tucker Carlson
  • Sean Hannity
  • Lou Dobbs
  • Maria Bartiromo
  • Jeanine Pirro
  • Bret Baier
  • Dana Perino
  • Paul Ryan (Yes, that one! He’s on the Fox board.)
  • Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott
  • Fox chief legal officer Viet Dinh

We don’t know these people will be required to testify, but they might. Should be a fun trial.

17 thoughts on “It’s Nice to Own a Supreme Court Justice

  1. Catch 22 Redux

    The Supreme Court has NO Rules of Ethics for Justices;  therefore Clarence Thomas has NOT violated Supreme Court Rules of Ethics.

    IF anyone attempts to hold Clarence Thomas accountable for violating any existing Ethics Laws, the Supreme Court has the final say and such attempt will never make it to court.

    John Roberts will eventually speak about the subject and castigate everyone for besmirching the reputation of the Supreme Court.

    • Without the strong threat of enforcement, a putative public servant like Thomas will thumb his nose at the law.

      What stellar ethics for a judge.

      We can look forward to an exhaustive investigation by 'Justice' Roberts – as to who leaked this information to the press.


  2. And in yet other news; tone-deafness abounds in Music City!  The TN GOP dominated legislature is at this moment simply kicking out Democrats who dared to support gun control protesters.  On the same day a video goes viral showing one-hit-wonder and professional dumbass Kid Rock (Nashville resident, I think) shooting up cases of Bud Light to protest trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney receiving an endorsement  from Budweiser.  Kudos to Fred Guttenberg for appropriately calling him out.  And I hope Ms. Mulvaney, of whom I was completely unaware, sends Mr. Rock a nice gift as a thank you for all the free publicity; I recommend a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon, he seems more like a PBR kind of guy and he's bound to be thirsty after slaughtering his own beer stash.

    Hey TN GOP, the world is watching.  Barely a week since the (most recent) horrible shooting – unreal.

  3. Yeah, Geunther, the TN legislature just shot themselves in their collective crotch today!

    They "excommunicated" 3 heathen Democrats from the body – 2 young Black males, and one middle-aged White woman – for the heresy of not begging their White RepubliKKKLAN male "massah's" to be allowed to protest on the legislatures's floor first, and instead joined their voices to the young people gathered there, demanding sensible gun con controls.

    Democracy is on a respirator in our Red states.  

    My hope is that TN's action today will result in the beginnings of a series of political tsunamis that will begin to wash away the Fascist filth that populates today's RepubliKKKLAN Party!

  4. Who were Clarence and Ginni Thomas raised by?

    Or what?

    Did they not instill one atom of conscience in them?

    Weren't the differences between right and wrong taught to them?

    I was taught that there are no free lunches.

    And that if I was offered a free lunch, to watch out!  BECAUSE THERE ARE NO SUCH THINGS AS FREE LUNCHES!!!

    Clarence, did you and Ginni think this rich White dude had you tag along because you were such scintillating conversationalists?

    Man, talk about your entitled and corrupt assholes!!!


  5. Wow!

    Of "The Tennessee Three," Justin Jones, one of the 2 young Black state reps, was booted out.

    But Gloria Johnson, the White woman was spared!


    Prejudice much?!?!?

    Justin Pierson, the other young Black rep is next up.

    My guess as to his fate should be pretty obvious.


  6. Yup, Rep. Pierson, the other Black brother, was also booted!

    Racist much, TN?!?!?

    Hey wait!

    Where's my other comment on "The Tennessee Three?"


  7. About tonight in Tennessee:

    Can you say, "inflection point?"

    I knew that you could.

    • It was supposedly about rules of decorum and proper behavior in the legislative chamber – they must have been appalled by Marjorie Taylor Green's antics during Biden's State of the Union speech.  The GOP already having all the power in TN was apparently not enough. Nashville has been a popular convention and tourism destination for a while, I think that is about to change. They've now got a stench that's gonna linger.  As with abortion, may their over-reach be their undoing.

  8. I was talking to the wife about these "vacations" and how Ginnie (if that’s really her name) got half a million in start-up cash for her “charity”.My point was that this will be processed as just another example of wing-nut corruption, it's Thursday, it doesn't really mean anything anymore, nothing really to see here, bigger fish to fry, it’s ok he’s a republican. Trump something something something. Clarence and Jinni (if that's really her name) they just need to lay low for a week maybe two then it's "business" as usual this will blow over, like a school shooting. My Idea was how about someone fight back. How about someone arranges to have Elena Kagen and her partner take a trip. Paris, London, Croatia, Key West, two weeks a whirlwind. Food, Fun, Free. Jets Boats whatever it takes. Invite the media, film the motorcade. Take off from JFK on George Soro's 747. Land in ( insert city), have a welcome party with George, invite the media. Then have Sheldon Whitehouse hold a press conference and ask: "is this okay"?


  9. For progressive legislators to pair up with demonstrators, even including civil disobedience is a powerful encouragement for activism. WHY? It sends the message that the only thing between voters and reform is a legislative majority. On gun control, the problem is not that there aren't rational restrictions that don't violate the 2nd amendment. The problem is that a strong Confederate movement wants to hold open the option of a revolution to overthrow the government. Many who can't go that far ( a shooting war with the feds) have been hoodwinked into the unfounded belief  "they" are gonna take away your guns. 

    The Supreme Court is WRONG about restrictions on gun ownership. We need to expand the court at the earliest opportunity. If you want to own a gun for personal protection, you have to know the law on the use of lethal force – and the consequences of screwing up. Shooting someone who is not a threat does and SHOULD have consequences. Responsible gun ownership means YOU are responsible for that gun. If kids get at it and accidentally shoot each other, it's YOUR fault for not securing the gun. Even for protection only in your own home, a prospective gun owner should have to demonstrate competence and regularly brush up at the shooting range. (If you are not going to keep up a minimal level of competence, gun ownership for protection puts you and others at risk.) 

    The more sophisticated the gun, the more training and background checks. Insurance and testing for competency at each level. I'm a good driver – I can't guess how many hours behind the wheel but I'm not qualified to drive an 18-wheeler. 

    When we pass sane legislation, we are decades from getting the glut of weapons off the streets and out of the hands of people who should not have guns. There's the story about Napoleon who wanted a street in paris lined with tall trees for an annual military parade. His aide pointed out that it would take a decade or longer for the trees to grow enough to shade the road. "Then me must start at once!" was the reply. 

    I do not think we can or should wait for the USSC rightist idiots to die off. Pack the court – NOW. 

    The guys who got kicked out of the legislature just got credibility as activists and leaders. They had to pay a price for standing up. Voters need to bring them back. I HOPE black voters are getting the message. It's the 60's again. You're gonna have to stand up for your equality – again. Once should have been enough, but there's a lot of white folks who will march with you. 

  10. "Crow said that he and his wife have never discussed a pending or lower court case with Thomas. 'We have never sought to influence Justice Thomas on any legal or political issue,' he added."

    Sometimes words just aren't necessary, "Are you having a good time? Hope you can join us again next year" was probably more than sufficient.

    • Oh, and as we already knew – Ginni has never sought to influence him on any legal or political issue either. Of course not.

  11. Joyce Vance draws the parallel between the TN expulsion and Julian Bond, a Georgia legislator who was similarly kicked out in the 1960s and fought his way back, all the way to the Supreme Court, who unanimously ruled in his favor. That’s what the TN wingnuts are up against. Could they be any more stupid as to spare the white legislator?

    (I remember the name Julian Bond from childhood, but had no idea about the backstory)

    As for Clarence and Ginni, Beau of the Fifth Column has a good review of it, but notes that the wealthy donor happens to be very generous to a variety of people (just how he rolls), and so the story has a little less sting to it than it appears. Beau notes an important exception that could trip up Thomas’ defense, and that’s the use of the donor’s private jet. I’m not sure what to make of it all vis a vis how much trouble Clarence Thomas really is in.

  12. To drive it home on the TN expulsion. Charlie Sykes makes the point that the TN GOP just elevated 3 very obscure politicians to the level of superstars, by their “political malpractice”. They stupidly created martyrs out of more or less nobodys.

  13. Did he report these gifts to the IRS?  The $500,000 gift exceed the maximum untaxed allowance (15,000 to 18,000 depending on year of gift). Is this tax fraud?


Comments are closed.