Whitehouse also reups call for Chief Justice to investigate Justice Thomas’s financial relationship with politically active republican billionaire
Whitehouse’s SCERT Act would require SCOTUS to adopt stricter disclosure rules and enact a process for investigating a justice’s misconduct
Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) today called on the Judicial Conference to refer Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Attorney General for potential violations of the Ethics in Government Act under 5 U.S.C. 13106. Whitehouse also reupped his call for the Chief Justice of the United States to launch an ethics investigation into Justice Thomas’s financial relationship with a politically active billionaire and apparent brazen disregard for disclosure laws. New reporting from ProPublica found that Harlan Crow, a Republican megadonor, purchased several properties from Justice Clarence Thomas in 2014. Justice Thomas did not disclose the sales on his financial disclosure forms as clearly required by law.
Today’s story follows another bombshell ProPublica report exposing that Justice Thomas and his wife accepted extravagant vacations on Crow’s dime, including individual trips worth as much as $500,000. Last week, Whitehouse and Representative Hank Johnson (D-GA) led their colleagues in a letter calling on the Chief Justice to investigate the allegations against Justice Thomas.
“I call on members from both sides of the aisle to pass my SCERT Act to help restore the American people’s badly shaken trust in the Supreme Court. First, Justice Thomas told us that he didn’t disclose free vacations on a superyacht and private jet because it was personal hospitality from a friend and that’s just what friends do. Well, friends don’t also buy your properties and deck them out for your family members to continue living in. And if all of this was on the up and up, why didn’t Justice Thomas disclose it to the American people as the law clearly requires? The Supreme Court justices are so deeply ensconced in a cocoon of special interest money that they can no longer be trusted to police themselves without proper process,” said Whitehouse. “It would be best for the Chief Justice to commence a proper investigation, but after a week of silence from the Court and the latest disturbing reporting, I’m urging the Judicial Conference to step in and refer Justice Thomas to the Attorney General for investigation.”
In February, Whitehouse reintroduced the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency (SCERT) Act, comprehensive legislation that would create a much-needed process for investigating misconduct at the Supreme Court, strengthen recusal standards for judges and disclosure rules for special interests trying to influence the courts, improve disclosure of gifts and travel for judges, and mandate the creation of a binding code of ethics. The SCERT Act would require the Supreme Court to adopt disclosure rules for gifts, travel, and income that are at least as rigorous as ethics rules for members of Congress.
Late last month, in response to Whitehouse, the Judicial Conference released updated financial disclosure rules that resolved key ambiguities related to the personal hospitality exemption addressed in the SCERT Act—the very exemption Justice Thomas and others appear to have exploited to avoid disclosing travel perks. By mandating that the Supreme Court’s disclosure rules be at least as transparent as Congress’s, the SCERT Act would ensure that Supreme Court rules require full disclosure of gifts and travel, even if the Judicial Conference were to adopt a less stringent policy in the future. The SCERT Act would also strengthen recusal requirements when parties who have provided gifts to justices appear before the Court, and require parties to disclose those gifts to the Court.
Whitehouse and Rep. Hank Johnson have also engaged in a series of correspondence with the Supreme Court regarding an outside influence campaign – known as Operation Higher Court – exposed by reporting in Politico and the New York Times. A right-wing religious group, Faith and Action, targeted Republican-appointed justices with lavish gifts from wealthy donors, and allegedly gained advanced knowledge of the Court’s decision in a key case.
Last spring, Whitehouse and Johnson wrote to Chief Justice Roberts requesting that he ensure that Justice Thomas recuse himself from cases involving his wife’s activities related to the 2020 election and the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Thomas has refused to recuse himself, or acknowledge the possible conflict of interest, in multiple cases. Chief Justice Roberts has taken no known action on this matter to date.