Our view: Clarence Thomas erodes Supreme Court integrity

Will Groves, Opinion Editor

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas finds himself in an ethical dilemma ever since a ProPublica report revealed he had been receiving fully paid trips from Republican billionaire and donor Harlan Crow. These trips includes a $500,000 trip to Indonesia, a men’s retreat in California and multiple other trips over a span of 20 years. 

   Justices at every level are supposed to be impartial and interpret the law objectively in their rulings. They should not be accepting elegant trips from billionaire donors meant to influence their decisions.

   Under the Ethics in Government Act, all governmental figures, including Supreme Court justices, must report all gifts valued over $415 they receive. There is an exception known as personal hospitality that includes “food, lodging or entertainment,” but transportation like a personal plane or yacht excursions do not fall under this exemption, despite what Thomas claims he was told by fellow justices.

   We at The News believe Thomas should have reported these vacations at the time he took the trip, not as a reaction to the expenses being published by the media.

   All other judges aside from those on the Supreme Court are bound by the Judicial Conference’s Code of Conduct for United States Judges, which provides guidelines for how the judges should conduct their business. The Supreme Court is not bound to this code of ethics. But it should be. Our justices are not above the law; this code should apply to them as well. 

   Legislators have even stricter rules for receiving gifts. Congressional members are         generally not allowed to accept gifts, but there are exceptions for gifts from friends and family, government officials and colleagues. 

   Thomas claimed he and Crow had been friends for 25 years, but Thomas has been on the Supreme Court for over 30 years. This means they became friends while Thomas served on the Court. While we at The News do not believe Crow became friends with the Thomases to buy influence, we do believe the financial benefits of their friendship poses an ethical problem to the legitimacy of the Supreme Court. 

   This is not Thomas’ first time ignoring common judicial and personal ethics. Aside from being credibly accused of sexual harassment during his nomination process by former coworker Anita Hill, Thomas and his wife Virginia “Ginni” Thomas have had issues with political conflict of interest. 

   Usually, whenever a justice is nominated to the Supreme Court, their partners do not engage in much partisan work, and the justices do not rule on cases where they have a special interest. For example, when Chief Justice John Roberts was nominated to the Supreme Court, his wife Jane Roberts quit her law practice to avoid any potential conflicts with her husband’s rulings. 

   But Ginni Thomas has continued her work as a conservative activist throughout her husband’s judicial career, even taking a major role in the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection. Ginni Thomas had connections to many anti-abortion groups through her position as a board director for conservative networking group the Council for National Policy. This group wrote amicus briefs, or letters to a court that voice support for one side of a suit, but Clarence Thomas refused to recuse himself from these cases.

   We could still have a federal right to abortion if Clarence Thomas had done the right thing and recused himself from Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Supreme Court case from 2022 officially overruling the super precedent case Roe v. Wade. 

   More than 20 Democratic legislators have called for an external, and most importantly, transparent investigation into Clarence Thomas’ unethical actions, according to CNN. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, called for action on the part of Chief Justice John Roberts and for the impeachment of Clarence Thomas. While it is unlikely Clarence Thomas’s impeachment proceedings will succeed, it is still a big deal to draft impeachment proceedings against a sitting justice. 

   Billionaires have so much influence on American politics right now, so why should we let them keep our Supreme Court justices in their pockets?

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