‘Corrupt as hell’: Clarence Thomas faces fresh calls to resign after more billionaire gifts revealed

Congressional Democrats have pushed for ethics reform legislation, efforts publicly rejected by Samuel Alito

Alex Woodward
Friday 11 August 2023 01:08 EDT
Justice Kagan responds to Justice Alito saying Congress doesn't have “authority” to tighten SCTOUS ethics rules.

Democratic members of Congress have revived their demands for the resignation of US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas following the largest accounting yet of the gifts, luxury vacations and private travel he received from a group of wealthy benefactors in his years on the nation’s highest court.

“He’s corrupt as hell and should resign today,” US Rep Bill Pascrell of New Jersey wrote on 10 August following ProPublica’s latest investigation.

The outlet’s months-long probe has uncovered previously undisclosed travel, hospitality and gifts from influential billionaires with connections to right-wing interest groups with business before the court – from private flights and yacht cruises to resort accommodations and VIP tickets to sporting events that legal experts argue are likely to violate disclosure requirements.

US Rep Gerry Connolly said that “no Justice should accept these types of gifts.”

“Thomas has repeatedly brought dishonor and ethical malpractice to our highest Court,” he wrote. “I reiterate my call that he must resign. This is exactly why we need SCOTUS ethics reform.”

“Would billionaires have given Justice Clarence Thomas massive gifts if he was just a law clerk? NO. That’s what makes this corrupt,” said US Rep Ted Lieu. “They were seeking to curry favor with Justice Thomas, either directly or indirectly. And Justice Thomas violated the law in accepting the gifts.”

The Independent has requested comment from a spokesperson for the Supreme Court.

Several proposals in Congress – including legislation introduced by Independent Senator Angus King and Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski – would force the nation’s high court to create a binding code of conduct, appoint an ethics officer to oversee compliance, or establish an ethics policy as strict as one for members of Congress. The Supreme Court is the only arm of the federal judiciary that is not bound by a code of ethics.

Republican lawmakers – who have supported a years-long effort with right-wing legal groups to radically reshape the federal judiciary by seating dozens of ideologically like-minded judges – accused congressional Democrats of using “ethics reform” to undermine the Supreme Court’s conservative supermajority, a long-held goal of GOP-aligned special interest groups.

Conservative Justice Samuel Alito – whose private jet travel and fishing trips are also the subject of close scrutiny – has publicly rejected congressional attempts to regulate the Supreme Court, comments that Senate Judiciary Committee chair Dick Durbin has called “unwise and unwelcome”.

Mr Durbin said the latest reporting “makes it clear: these are not merely ethical lapses. This is a shameless lifestyle underwritten for years by a gaggle of fawning billionaires.”

“Justices Thomas and Alito have made it clear that they’re oblivious to the embarrassment they’ve visited on the highest court in the land,” he added. “Now it’s up to Chief Justice Roberts and the other Justices to act on ethics reform to save their own reputations and the Court’s integrity. ... If the Court will not act, then Congress must continue to.”

“Congress did not create the Supreme Court,” Mr Alito told The Wall Street Journal last month. “I know this is a controversial view, but I’m willing to say it … No provision in the Constitution gives them the authority to regulate the Supreme Court – period.”

He added: “I don’t know that any of my colleagues have spoken about it publicly, so I don’t think I should say. But I think it is something we have all thought about.”

The second-ranking Democratic senator responded to his remarks stating that Justice Alito “is not the 101st member” of the Senate.

“The ethical conduct of Supreme Court Justices is a serious matter within this Committee’s jurisdiction. Ensuring ethical conduct by the justices is critical to the Court’s legitimacy,” Mr Durbin said in a statement earlier this month. “The next time Justice Alito thinks about taking a private plane to a billionaire-funded fishing trip, he should have to ask more than ‘Can I take this empty seat?’ He should have to ask if doing so is consistent with his legally-mandated ethical obligations.”

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