Washington — Justicetraveled aboard a private plane owned by Texas real estate magnate Harlan Crow in July 2022 and stayed at Crow’s property in the Adirondacks for several days last summer, according to the justice’s annual financial disclosure report released Thursday.
The report, which covers all of 2022, includes new details about the travel arrangements Crow provided to Thomas on three occasions last year and is the first disclosure form filed by the justice since he came under scrutiny for his relationship with the Texas developer following a series of reports from the news outlet ProPublica.
Though the reports for 2022 were due in mid-May, Thomas and Justice Samuel Alito90-day extensions. Filings for 2022 from the remaining seven justices were made public in early June, while the federal judiciary posted Alito’s and Thomas’ filings Thursday.
Elliot Berke, Thomas’ personal attorney whose firm assisted with the disclosure, said that after reviewing the justice’s records, he is “confident there has been no willful ethics transgression,” and any earlier reporting errors were inadvertent. He denounced accusations from congressional Democrats and outside groups that Thomas violated federal ethics law, calling them “calumny.”
“Willful violations require intentional disregard or indifference,” Berke said in a statement. The attacks on Justice Thomas are nothing less than ridiculous and dangerous, and they set a terrible precedent for political blood sport through federal ethics filings.
Berke said his firm is working with the Supreme Court and Judicial Conference for guidance on whether Thomas should amend reports from earlier years.
“No justice, Justice Thomas included, should be subjected to such political blood sport,” he said. “It is painfully obvious that these attacks are motivated by hatred for his judicial philosophy, not by any real belief in any ethical lapses.”
What was in Clarence Thomas’ disclosure?
The disclosure report from Thomas notes Crow provided transportation, lodging, food or entertainment to him in February, May and July 2022. The events from February and May denote their purpose as “keynote speaker at American Enterprise Institute’s Conference at Old Parkland” in Dallas, Texas, and Thomas notes that he was provided transportation and meals. For the February 2022 conference, Thomas specified that he “flew private on return trip due to unexpected ice storm.”
Thomas provided further information about his travel provided by Crow “as advised by the Supreme Court’s Legal Office, the Counselor to the Chief Justice, the staff of the Judicial Conference Financial Disclosure Committee, and personal counsel.” He noted that before new guidance from the Judicial Conference was issued in March about reporting so-called personal hospitality, Thomas “adhered to then existing judicial regulations as his colleagues had done, both in practice and in consultation with the Judicial Conference.
Thomas disclosed that he flew aboard a private plane provided by Crow for the May 2022 speech in Dallas “because of the increased security risk following” the property,” which the justice’s disclosure notes was reportable under new guidance from the Judicial Conference. Crow owns the property, known as Camp Topridge.Supreme Court opinion . He also reported “flights to and from Adirondacks by private plane and lodging, food, and entertainment at the Adirondacks
Thomas’ 2022 disclosure form also lists bank accounts at Congressional Federal Credit Union, as well as life insurance policies held by his wife, Ginni Thomas, that were “inadvertently omitted” on annual reports from 2017 to 2021.
In addition to providing more information about travel provided by Crow, Thomas’ disclosure form included details about a 2014 real estate transaction with Crow for three properties he family in Georgia, which was revealed by ProPublica in April. The form notes that Thomas inherited a one-third interest in the three properties — his mother’s residence and two additional houses — in 1984, which Crow purchased in 2014 for $133,000, “along with other houses/lots on the same street.”and his
Thomas’ report reveals that the transaction “amounted to a capital loss,” as he and Ginni Thomas, a conservative activist, spent between $50,000 and $75,000 making improvements to his mother’s house. “There was no profit or net income for Justice Thomas on the transaction,” Berke said.
“Filer had previously reported his interest in two of the Savannah properties (excluding his mother’s residence) in the years when they generated rental income. Once these properties no longer generated any rental income, filer was advised by Committee staff to remove the two properties from his disclosure forms,” the form states. “However, filer inadvertently failed to realize that the ‘sales transaction’ for the final disposition of the three properties triggered a new reportable transaction in 2014, even though this sale resulted in a capital loss.”
The financial disclosure reports from Thomas and Alito listing positions, gifts, reimbursements and investments for 2022 were highly anticipated, as the two have been the subject of news coverage about their ties to wealthy Republican donors. Thomas, in particular, has been criticized for his relationship with Crow, a Texas real estate developer.
Beyond the trips paid for by Crow, Thomas’ disclosure form lists his position as an honorary member of the Horatio Alger Association and notes that he received $12,000 in December 2022 from the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University. He did not receive any reportable gifts last year, according to the form.
What was in Samuel Alito’s disclosure?
Alito’s disclosure form states that he taught courses at Duke Law School and Regent University School of Law in 2022 and received $29,250 for his teachings. He also held honorary positions at Duke Law School, the Catholic University School of Law and Franciscan Monastery for the Holy Land.
Duke covered his lodging and meals in Durham, North Carolina, his form notes. Alito also received transportation, lodging and meals from Notre Dame Law School for his appearance at a religious liberty summit in Rome in July 2022. The justice also said he had no reportable gifts.
What prompted the interest in the 2022 disclosures?
The reports from the news outlet ProPublica detailed Thomas’ travel aboard Crow’s private jet and yacht and luxury vacations he accepted from the GOP megadonor across their 25-year friendship. in addition to the real estate transaction in Georgia, Crowat a pair of boarding schools for Thomas’ grandnephew, ProPublica found.
None of the arrangements were listed in Thomas’ earlier financial disclosures, though the conservative judge pledged to comply with the new guidelines from the Judicial Conference adopted in March.
Alito, meanwhile,a private jet provided by hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer for a vacation at a luxury fishing resort in Alaska in 2008, ProPublica reported. His accommodations were covered by a conservative donor, according to the news outlet, and neither the lodging nor travel were listed on his financial disclosures.
Alito defended the trip in an opinion piece published in the Wall Street Journal and said he did not believe he was required to include the travel arrangements on his disclosure forms.
The revelations sparked renewed interest from Congress over the ethics policies at the Supreme Court, which is not covered by the code of conduct that federal judges on the district courts and courts of appeals must comply with. The Senate Judiciary Committeein July that would require the high court to adopt an ethics code, though it’s unlikely the bill passes the Senate and House, which is controlled by Republicans.
Chief Justice John Robertsin April that the justices signed on to a statement on ethics principles and practices, but that there is more the Supreme Court can do to “adhere to the highest standards” of ethical conduct. The chief justice said the justices are continuing to look at what they can do to “give practical effect” to their commitment to comply with ethics standards, and Justice Elena Kagan said earlier this month that she and her colleagues have themselves.