WASHINGTON — Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas on Friday explained his failure to disclose the travels of his friend and conservative billionaire Harlan Crowe.
Thomas said in a statement that Crowe and his wife, Kathy, are “dear friends” and that he and his wife have accompanied them on family trips over the years.
“Early in my career at the court, I sought guidance from my colleagues and others in the judiciary, and such personal hospitality from close personal friends who had no business before the court would not be reported,” Thomas said. said.
“I have tried to follow that advice throughout my tenure and have always tried to comply with disclosure guidelines,” he added.
Thomas, one of the court’s six conservative justices, signaled compliance with changes to disclosure rules announced last month. Those amendments clarified that travel on private jets and stays at privately owned resorts, such as a Crow’s Nest in upstate New York, must be disclosed.
The change in disclosure rules tightened the not strictly defined “personal hospitality” exception.
Those changes were made a week ago ProPublica Thomas’ lavish trips were funded by Crow, according to an article published Thursday.
Thomas did not disclose these trips — including Crowe’s private jet travel and visits to the resort — in his annual financial disclosure statements. Under the rules until recently, it’s unclear whether he was required, but — whether he was or not — ethicists have questioned his judgment.
The “personal hospitality” exemption means that judges and justices do not have to disclose certain gifts, including lodging and meals, when the person involved is a friend. The new interpretation clarified that travel on private jets and stays at resort-type facilities owned by private companies must be disclosed.
Stephen Gillers, an expert on judicial ethics at New York University School of Law, said Friday that Thomas’ explanation was insufficient.
“Thomas has made no attempt to defend his conduct other than to say he was misled by those he consulted,” he said. Gillers added that Thomas’ statement was effectively “an admission that he broke the rules because he was misled.”
Before Thomas’ statement was released, Gillers had said the disclosure rules were “vague enough” before the latest update that Thomas could have argued that he wasn’t required to disclose.
Thomas has been the focus of increased scrutiny in recent months due to the actions of his wife, Virginia “Ginny” Thomas, including her support of former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election results. Thomas has faced criticism for failing to recuse himself from cases involving Trump and the election.
The Supreme Court’s 6-3 conservative majority has angered liberals by shifting American law dramatically to the right, most notably last year in 1973’s Roe v. Overturning the Wade decision gives women a constitutional right to an abortion.
Recent developments have renewed calls for Supreme Court judges to adopt a code of conduct that governs lower court judges.
Among other things, that code requires judges to “avoid the appearance of impropriety and impropriety in all proceedings.” If judges violate the law, they can be investigated and reprimanded through a separate complaints process.
Judges say they follow the spirit of the code introduced in 1973, but they have never formally adopted one of their own. There is also no procedure to allow investigation of complaints short of the drastic action of impeachment.
Members of Congress have introduced legislation requiring judges to adopt a code.