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Clarence Thomas' many scandals draw more calls for court reform

This week news broke of more quiet favors and payments to Clarence Thomas and his wife Ginni.
Clarence Thomas' many scandals draw more calls for court reform
Posted at 8:00 PM, May 05, 2023

The headlines keep on coming for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Two new accusations from two different publications, both published Thursday, center around money and gifts Thomas and his family received from outside interests.

ProPublica revealed that GOP megadonor Harlan Crow allegedly paid for Thomas's teenage grandnephew to attend at least one — perhaps two — private boarding schools.

It's unclear if Crow picked up the tab for all four years, but if he did, the grand total could have exceeded $150,000.

That's in addition to the undisclosed private jet flights, international vacations and luxury yacht excursions Thomas accepted from Crow for years – revealed in a previous ProPublica report.

"I think the aggregate is key here. I mean, it's really, it's this pattern that is most remarkable. There's no known precedent for this in the modern history of the Supreme Court," said Joshua Kaplan, a reporter with ProPublica

On the same day, reporting from The Washington Post detailed secret payments to Thomas's wife.

Documents reviewed by the Post said the payments were directed to "Ginni" Thomas by conservative judicial activist Leonard Leo.

According to the report, Leo instructed Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway to bill a nonprofit group he advises, and use the money to pay Ginni tens of thousands of dollars for "consulting work."

Leo emphasized – the paperwork should have "no mention of Ginni, of course."

SEE MORE: Report: Clarence Thomas sold real estate to donor, didn't report deal

The continuous drumbeat of controversy surrounding Thomas and his finances has lawmakers on both sides of the aisle voicing their concerns and calling for stricter ethics rules for Supreme Court justices.

"I think the best thing for the Chief Justice Roberts and the judges to do is to take this experience and go back and consider whether the changes in their code of ethics for the Supreme Court are appropriate," said Teaxs Sen. John Cornyn.

"You cannot have a situation where the Supreme Court justices are influenced by money,' said Montana Sen. John Tester/ "And by the way, I would say the same thing for us in Congress. And so there should be a bipartisan effort going on, not just Democrats, not just Republicans, to make sure that these folks are following a set of guidelines."

Last week, Chief Justice John Roberts and the eight other justices released a "Statement on Ethics Principles and Practices." But critics say it doesn't go far enough.

Some Democrats are pushing for Congress to step in and enact stricter guidelines.

But Republicans are pushing back, saying the high court should take steps toward more transparency of its own accord.

As for Thomas, he's not facing any imminent consequences — at least for now.

A number of Democratic lawmakers have already called on him to resign.

And the Project on Government Oversight last month sent a letter to the Department of Justice urging action against Thomas – either criminally or civilly.

Ethics experts say the fact that there's a debate here shows a double standard at play, an imbalance between who is held accountable and who isn't.

"I think there probably is a feeling within the Supreme Court that they are a unique kind of court. That they are no subject to the regulation of mere mortals," said Charles Geyh, a law professor at Indiana University.

"It is highly problematic and dangerous our democracy and impactful to every citizen of this country when the highest court in the United States and America has the lowest ethical standards within all of the branches of government," said Donald Sherman, senior Vice President and chief counsel with Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "And this court has no binding code of conduct, unlike even the lower courts."

SEE MORE: Justice Thomas' actions prompt calls for Supreme Court ethics reform

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