What’s going on with reports of Clarence Thomas accepting bribes?

April 17, 2023 Robert Abruzzese
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Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is facing increased scrutiny following a recent report by ProPublica alleging that he accepted luxurious vacations from a top Republican donor, Harlan Crow, while ruling on a bribery case.

ProPublica’s report intensified scrutiny on Thomas, with ethics experts questioning if Thomas acted improperly by accepting extravagant gifts and neglecting to disclose them. Justices are required to publicly report gifts exceeding $415, but exceptions exist for instances such as consuming food or staying at a private property without paying a lodging fee.

Thomas and his wife allegedly accepted trips, accommodations, transportation, and more from Crow for more than 20 years. Some gifts were disclosed by Thomas, but others, including vacations and trips on Crow’s jet and yacht, were not. If Thomas had paid for the same level of accommodation himself, the experiences would have exceeded hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Neama Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor, told Newsweek that even if something is not illegal, it may be unethical. Rahmani added that ethical rules are unlikely to be enforced unless a justice is impeached, and it’s up to Congress to act.

Crow maintains that neither he nor any other guests accompanying the pair on a trip had questioned Thomas about a court case, and that Thomas never discussed cases while on vacation with him.

In 2016, Supreme Court Justice Thomas, in a unanimous decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts, played a role in overturning the bribery conviction of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell.

Justice Thomas, as one of the nine justices on the Supreme Court at the time, joined the unanimous decision to vacate and remand McDonnell’s conviction. The ruling narrowed the definition of “official acts” in corruption cases and led to similar reversals in other cases involving local and state officials.

If Clarence Thomas were found guilty of accepting bribes, it would constitute a violation of federal bribery and corruption laws that prohibit public officials, including Supreme Court Justices, from receiving or accepting anything of value in exchange for being influenced in the performance of their official duties.

Accepting gifts and not disclosing them would breach the ethical rules and disclosure requirements applicable to Supreme Court Justices. Justices are required to report gifts valued over a certain amount, according to the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, and must adhere to the Code of Conduct for United States Judges, which provides guidance on ethical behavior for federal judges. Failure to disclose gifts or recuse oneself from cases with potential conflicts of interest could be considered ethical violations.

The process for removing a U.S. Supreme Court Justice who is found guilty of accepting bribes involves impeachment, which is the only method outlined in the U.S. Constitution for removing a federal judge from office, including Supreme Court Justices.The impeachment process for a Supreme Court justice starts in the House of Representatives, where an impeachment resolution can be introduced or an investigation initiated. If the House Judiciary Committee finds sufficient evidence, it drafts articles of impeachment, which the full House votes on.

If a simple majority approves, the justice is impeached, leading to a Senate trial. In the trial, House members serve as prosecutors, and the Chief Justice presides if it involves a Supreme Court justice. After the trial, the Senate votes on removal, requiring a two-thirds majority to convict and remove the justice from office.

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