April 7, 2023 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
Clarence Thomas is telling on himself
And hoping you won’t notice.
ProPublica reported Thursday that US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has been palling around with a Republican billionaire for years without reporting lavish trips, superyacht tours and private jet rides. US law requires federal officials to disclose such gifts. From the story:
“For more than two decades, Thomas has accepted luxury trips virtually every year from the Dallas businessman without disclosing them, documents and interviews show. A public servant who has a salary of $285,000, he has vacationed on Crow’s superyacht around the globe. He flies on Crow’s Bombardier Global 5000 jet. He has gone with Crow to the Bohemian Grove, the exclusive California all-male retreat, and to Crow’s sprawling ranch in East Texas. And Thomas typically spends about a week every summer at Crow’s private resort in the Adirondacks.
“The extent and frequency of Crow’s apparent gifts to Thomas have no known precedent in the modern history of the US Supreme Court.”
Thomas said, in a statement, that “he was ‘advised that this sort of personal hospitality from close personal friends’ was not something that needed to be reported under the court’s previous guidelines,” according to the Post. New guidelines were issued recently by the court’s policy-making arm. Thomas said he’ll follow them.
The obvious next step is taking action. The Post’s Greg Sargent explores what the Senate Judiciary Committee might do, including an investigation or even subpoenaed testimony by Thomas himself.
Chairman Dick Durbin said failure to disclose such gifts is inconsistent with any reasonable standard of conduct. If so, Greg said, “that seems to demand an aggressive response from the Judiciary Committee. Legal experts say the committee could act to shed light on the situation in many ways that would fit squarely within its authorities.”
Read Greg’s piece for more on the Democratic reaction to the report. For my part, I want to point out something that may or may not be obvious – Justice Clarence Thomas seems to be telling on himself.
In his statement, he identified real estate magnate Harlan Crow as a “close personal friend.” What he’s asking us to believe is this: Nothing to see here. The court’s integrity has not been compromised, because the justice and the billionaire are merely “close personal friends.” And that friendship has no bearing whatsoever on Thomas’ jurisprudence.
Look, I’m no billionaire. Maybe there are various ways of influencing a Supreme Court justice. Maybe there are sundry ways of getting desired rulings out of him. But it seems to me that a good way of influencing him would be without appearing to influence him. It seems to me a good way of doing that is by becoming his “close personal friend.”
So he’s asking us to believe something else.
That we’re all idiots.
Durbin should be aggressive on this matter. The Congress has been notoriously hands-off the court for decades. It’s about time for the first branch of government to crack down on the third. But if the focus is on disclosing “anything of value” – lavish trips, superyacht tours, private jet rides – that’s beside the point. The thing of value in this close personal friendship isn’t a thing. It’s the close personal friendship.
I don’t know what the solution would be. Outlaw friendship?
What I do know is this scandal is a double insult.
Not only is it obvious that the integrity of the Supreme Court has been compromised, and has been for years, it’s obvious that the person most responsible for the court’s compromised integrity has little if any respect for the people who must live the Supreme Court’s rulings.
I don’t see how it can be otherwise.
He’s been shown to be a recipient of extremely valuable gifts derived from an extremely valuable friendship. He failed to disclose them, as required. Then, after being exposed for having failed to disclose those gifts, he said, well, someone else decided for me that I didn’t need to, because, after all, this is a “close personal friend” we’re talking about.
So yeah, Thomas is telling on himself.
He’s hoping you won’t notice.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.