06/13/2024

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Justice Clarence Thomas has received some 47% of all known gifts given to Supreme Court in the modern era, likely totaling well over $5.87 million: Report

Clarence Thomas (YouTube/Library of Congress)

Justice Clarence Thomas is far and away the largest recipient of gifts in the recorded history of the U.S. Supreme Court, a bombshell new report by a nonpartisan judicial reform advocacy group reveals.

Since 1981, 17 people have served as members of the nation’s high court. During that period, 672 documented and “likely” gifts have been given to the justices, according to Fix the Court.

Out of that total, Thomas has allegedly received 319 such gifts — just shy of half of all gifts documented by the group.

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    The threshold for justices to self-report their gift receiving spans from $250 in 1981-1998 to $480 in 2023-2025.

    In sum, the total value of all the documented and likely gifts tallied by the group is over $6.59 million. The total value of the documented and likely gifts received by Thomas eclipses some $5.87 million.

    The breakdown for the conservative jurist’s gift haul is as follows: 193 gifts identified by Fix the Court, and 126 “likely” gifts.

    Notably, the totals identified by the group do not mean those that have been formally reported by the justices themselves.

    Thomas, for his part, acknowledged only 27 gifts on federal disclosure forms. The justice’s aversion to transparency has resulted in significant and sustained discussion about judicial ethics before.

    In April 2023, ProPublica revealed that Thomas and his wife had, for decades, taken numerous undisclosed trips around the world on a Dallas billionaire Republican donor’s “superyacht.”

    Experts, however, told Law&Crime that the failure to disclose those trips was highly unlikely to result in any sort of sanction.

    A series of subsequent ethics scandals — of the same variety — followed Thomas in the months that followed the yacht story.

    More Law&Crime coverage: Clarence Thomas mired in ethics questions over failure to report loan forgiveness for $267K luxury RV

    The Code of Conduct for Justices was recently enacted in November 2023 but it carries no consequences for violations — or any way to ascertain whether such violations have occurred.

    In the new data set compiled by Fix the Court — available here in spreadsheet form — gifts identified as “meals” and “lodging” are separated out into two gifts and “each of a roundtrip flight” is counted as one gift.

    Still, the group says its data is “most likely an undercount.”

    Using ProPublica’s reporting, the group says it, “calculated the number of visits to Topridge and Bohemian Grove, as well as free tickets to Dallas Cowboys and Florida Panthers games, for example, but erred on the low end.”

    Additionally, the group specifically left out hunting lodge trips provided to the late Justice Antonin Scalia and current Justice Samuel Alito due to the lack of ownership information available. Finally, since three justices died in office — Scalia, William Rehnquist and Ruth Bader Ginsburg — their self-reported gifts “might also be undercounts.”

    More Law&Crime coverage: Justice Clarence Thomas asks for and receives months more time to file financial disclosures required by law, as Congress turns up heat on billionaire friend

    With Thomas as the recipient of the highest number of gifts, the group focuses a great deal of detail on what, exactly, he allegedly received.

    “[S]everal entities Thomas listed on his 2000 and 2002 disclosures as ‘reimbursing’ him for ‘private plane’ travel did not, in all likelihood, own private planes at the time (e.g., high schools, small colleges, civic organization, etc.),” the group says. “Those flight-legs were then gifts, 20 in total.”

    A “Behind the Data” section on Fix the Court’s website explains:

    The tally includes the amount of principal and interest — $253,686 — we believe Tony Welters forgave in 2008 for the luxury RV he gifted to Thomas the decade before. FTC’s numbers include the tuition gifts, $144,400 across six years, Thomas received for his grandnephew. (And yet, even counting his “likely gifts,” Thomas accounts for less than half of the SCOTUS haul.) It captures the value of Thomas’ yacht trips to Russia, the Greek Isles and Indonesia, as well as some new information on the Thomas flights Tony Novelly paid for[.]

    The second-largest recipient of likely and documented gifts counted by the group is the late Sandra Day O’Connor — with 73. Scalia rounds out the top three with 67 likely and documented gifts.

    “Supreme Court justices should not be accepting gifts, let alone the hundreds of freebies worth millions of dollars they’ve received over the years,” Fix the Court’s Gabe Roth said in a statement. “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.”

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