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Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas

WASHINGTON, D.C. (LifeSiteNews) — Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee are calling on the U.S. Supreme Court to investigate its most conservative member, Justice Clarence Thomas, for not disclosing various expensive gifts he received over the years from personal friend and Republican “megadonor” Harlan Crow.

On April 6, ProPublica reported that Thomas has for years received “luxury trips” around the world from Crow, a Dallas real estate developer, including on Crow’s private yacht and jet. “These trips appeared nowhere on Thomas’ financial disclosures,” ProPublica says, which “appears to violate a law passed after Watergate that requires justices, judges, members of Congress and federal officials to disclose most gifts, two ethics law experts said.”

The outlet claims that Crow’s generosity has given him a “unique form of access” to Thomas, “spending days in private with one of the most powerful people in the country.”

“As friends do, we have joined [Crow and his wife Kathy] on a number of family trips during the more than quarter century we have known them,” Thomas responded in a joint statement with his wife Ginni. “Early in my tenure at the Court, I sought guidance from my colleagues and others in the judiciary, and was advised that this sort of personal hospitality from close personal friends, who did not have business before the Court, was not reportable.”

“I have endeavored to follow that counsel throughout my tenure, and have always sought to comply with the disclosure guidelines,” Thomas continued. “These guidelines are now being changed, as the committee of the Judicial Conference responsible for financial disclosure for the entire federal judiciary just this past month announced new guidance. And, it is, of course, my intent to follow this guidance in the future.”

“We have never asked about a pending or lower court case, and Justice Thomas has never discussed one, and we have never sought to influence Justice Thomas on any legal or political issue,” Crow said in his own statement. “More generally, I am unaware of any of our friends ever lobbying or seeking to influence Justice Thomas on any case, and I would never invite anyone who I believe had any intention of doing that. These are gatherings of friends.”

Those answers were not enough for Sens. Dick Durbin, Dianne Feinstein, Sheldon Whitehouse, Amy Klobuchar, Chris Coons, Richard Blumenthal, Mazie Hirono, Cory Booker, Alex Padilla, Jon Ossoff, and Peter Welch, however.

On April 10, the Judiciary Committee Democrats sent a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts urging him to “ immediately open” an investigation into “how such conduct could take place at the Court under your watch” and “take all needed action to prevent further misconduct.”

“In the coming days, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing regarding the need to restore confidence in the Supreme Court’s ethical standards,” the lawmakers warned. “And if the Court does not resolve this issue on its own, the Committee will consider legislation to resolve it.”

Writing at National Review, legal scholar Ed Whelan notes that prior to ProPublica’s report, the New York Times, NBC News, and the Washington Post all reported on the rule change clarifying and strengthening the reporting requirements for travel-related gifts, which New York University School of Law legal ethicist Stephen Gillers called “little more than a joke” before.

“In my view, before the recent amendments, the situation was sufficiently vague to give Thomas a basis to claim that reporting was not required,” said Gillers. “I think that such an interpretation would be a stretch … but the interpretation is plausible.”

Whelan further notes that ProPublica acknowledged that Crow’s business has not had any cases before the Court during Thomas’s tenure that might create a conflict of interest. “A primary purpose of rules that require justices and other judges to disclose gifts is to identify and deter conflicts of interest. It is of course incumbent on all judges to comply with their disclosure obligations even when no such conflicts exist,” he writes. But “there is a genuine dispute whether the longstanding rules that were revised just a month ago required Justice Thomas to disclose Crow’s gifts of air travel.”