Clarence Thomas, Sonny Perdue
US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Photo credit: USDA / Wikimedia

An amended financial disclosure form showing that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas went on lavish trips paid for by a rich benefactor shows that the media’s reporting about these “gifts” was not, in fact, some sort of smear.

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When the first stories appeared that Clarence Thomas accepted extravagant trips and lavish gifts from billionaire benefactors, the Supreme Court justice’s allies were quick to come to his defense.

“These friends are not parties before him as a Justice of the Court. And these stories are malicious, perpetuating the ugly assumption that the Justice cannot think for himself,” more than 100 of his former law clerks said at the time in an open letter. “They are part of a larger attack on the Court and its legitimacy as an institution. The picture they paint of the Court and the man for whom we worked bears no resemblance to reality.”

In addition, they pointed to Thomas’ humble upbringing in “poverty few can fathom” as evidence that he is “no ordinary Judge.”

Well, he certainly is no ordinary judge.

According to newly released data from the watchdog group Fix the Court, Thomas is lapping the field when it comes to accepting gifts.

The group says it has identified 344 “gifts” with a total value of nearly $3 million given to Supreme Court justices in the past 20 years.

Thomas is responsible for 101 of those “gifts” worth $2.4 million… and conveniently forgot to list the vast majority of them on his financial disclosure forms. And, according to the group, he also “likely” received more unreported “gifts” that would bring his total to at least $4.7 million.

For what it’s worth, the next two names on the list are conservative stalwarts Samuel Alito and the late Antonin Scalia, who accepted more than $170,000 each during that period,  although neither served the entirety of that time.

“Supreme Court justices should not be accepting gifts, let alone the hundreds of freebies worth millions of dollars they’ve received over the years,” said Fix the Court’s Gabe Roth. “Public servants who make four times the median local salary, and who can make millions writing books on any topic they like, can afford to pay for their own vacations, vehicles, hunting excursions and club memberships — to say nothing of the influence the gift-givers are buying with their ‘generosity.’ The ethics crisis at the Court won’t begin to abate until justices adopt stricter gift acceptance rules.”

The defenders of Thomas and Alito, who also failed to disclose a trip, often characterized these revelations (as well as the stories indicating that the Alito family believed in Donald Trump’s Big Lie) as a way for Democrats and ethics groups to “smear the court.”

At the time of the initial revelations from ProPublica, Thomas’s lawyer Elliot Berke spoke of “sensationalized allegations” and accused the watchdog groups of going after the justice merely because they disagreed with his ideology.

“Over the course of his 44 years in public service in all three branches of government, Justice Thomas has always strived for full transparency and adherence to the law, including with respect to what personal travel needed to be reported,” Berke stated.

Well, maybe not quite so transparent.

Last year, Thomas already retroactively amended his disclosure forms to include a loan he received from one of his rich friends.

And on Friday, he finally disclosed his vacations to Bali and an exclusive club in California.

According to the filing, he had “inadvertently omitted” them from the original disclosure form.

Sure, that seems plausible.

“Hey, Justice Thomas, I’m doing your disclosure forms. Did you go on any trips last year?”
“Nope, not that I can remember.”
“Cool, cool, cool, I’ll just write, ‘No gifts’ then.”

We are not talking about a stay at a B&B in West Virginia. Bali is quite memorable… and so is hanging out with a billionaire in California.

If Thomas really can’t recall them, then he shouldn’t recuse himself merely from cases that might help his benefactors because of potential bias, but rather from all of them because of senility.


  • Klaus Marre

    Klaus Marre is a writer, editor, former congressional reporter, and director of the WhoWhatWhy Mentor Apprentice Program. Follow him on Twitter @KlausMarre.

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