Latest ProPublica report exposes lavish travel and gifts enjoyed by Justice Clarence Thomas

Judicial junkets: From Bahamas yachts to VIP skyboxes

August 11, 2023 Rob Abruzzese
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In a new report issued on Thursday, ProPublica has shed new light on the opulent lifestyle enjoyed by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, a lifestyle funded by his affluent circle of friends.

According to the investigative journalism non-profit, this includes unreported flights on private jets, luxury resort stays, and premier tickets to major sports events.

The ProPublica investigation reveals that since his induction into the Supreme Court, Thomas has regularly indulged in high-end excursions and events, largely bankrolled by his wealthy associates, with minimal public disclosure.

According to the report, Thomas received a series of gifts including at least 38 vacations, with a notable yacht trip around the Bahamas, 26 private jet flights with eight additional helicopter trips, a dozen VIP sporting event passes, stays at luxury resorts in Florida and Jamaica, and an exclusive golf club invitation. Texas billionaire Harlan Crow notably provided vacations, private jet flights, and even bought Thomas’ mother’s house in Georgia. Additionally, wealthy businessmen offered Thomas special access to the Supreme Court building for events, costing significant donations per person.

However, many of these gifts were not disclosed as required by law, raising ethical and potential legal concerns. The exact value of the undisclosed trips is undetermined but is speculated to be in the millions. Critics argue that Thomas’s luxurious lifestyle, funded by these benefactors, goes beyond the standard of what most Americans and even other Supreme Court justices experience.

Of significant note in the report is the mention of the GOP mega-donor, Harlan Crow, who has not only funded extravagant trips for Justice Thomas and his wife but has also been involved in peculiar real estate transactions pertaining to Thomas’ family. Thomas has, in the past, defended his association with Crow, emphasizing their longstanding friendship.

However, Crow is not the sole billionaire backing Thomas. David Sokol, once tipped to be Warren Buffet’s successor at Berkshire Hathaway; H. Wayne Huizenga, the late tycoon behind Blockbuster and Waste Management Inc.; and Paul “Tony” Novelly, an ex-oil magnate, have all been identified as contributors to Thomas’s opulent lifestyle.

While Sokol admitted to hosting the Thomases and emphasized the non-professional nature of their discussions, neither Thomas nor Novelly responded to the questions presented by ProPublica. With Huizenga having passed in 2018, his successor remained similarly tight-lipped.

Legal experts consulted by ProPublica opined that Justice Thomas’s actions seem to diverge significantly from the ethical guidelines that bind other government officials and lower court judges. Jeremy Fogel, a former judge who once oversaw the financial disclosures of lower court judges, stated that Thomas’s extensive list of unreported gifts is unparalleled.

Questions are now arising about the legal ramifications of Thomas’s lack of disclosure, with ethics professionals suggesting that some of the received hospitality and gifts should indeed have been reported.

While none of the benefactors appear to have any direct proceedings before the Supreme Court, their considerable contributions to right-wing causes align them with Thomas’s conservative legal philosophies. Intriguingly, all these wealthy associations seem to have been fostered post Thomas’s Supreme Court appointment.

The recent revelations are spurring congressional Democrats to demand a rigid ethics code for justices. Although the Supreme Court adheres to some financial disclosure norms, they argue it’s more out of convention than obligation.

Despite these concerns, key figures, including Chief Justice John Roberts, have implied faith in the justices’ ethical discretion. Still, there is growing apprehension and debate on the matter within the court itself.

This new expose builds upon earlier ProPublica investigations highlighting the lapses in justices’, especially Thomas’s, financial disclosures. One major highlight from earlier reports involves Crow’s unreported gifts and a real estate transaction related to Thomas’s mother’s residence.

Moreover, a recent New York Times report brought attention to an undisclosed loan Justice Thomas took from Anthony Welters, a prominent Democratic fundraiser, in 1999 to fund a lavish RV purchase.

 


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