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Sunday, April 16, 2023

Sen. Whitehouse suggest DOJ investigate Justice Thomas

Democratic Senator says Clarence Thomas should be referred to US Attorney General

JAKE JOHNSON for Common Dreams

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse on Thursday urged the top policymaking body for U.S. federal courts to refer Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to the attorney general, citing the lack of immediate action from the high court amid fresh evidence that the right-wing judge violated disclosure laws.

"It would be best for the chief justice to commence a proper investigation, but after a week of silence from the court and the latest disturbing reporting, I'm urging the Judicial Conference to step in and refer Justice Thomas to the attorney general for investigation," the Rhode Island Democrat said in a statement.

The senator's call came shortly after ProPublica revealed that a company owned by billionaire real estate mogul and GOP megadonor Harlan Crow bought property from Thomas in a deal that the justice did not disclose. The Thursday piece built on ProPublica's bombshell story last week detailing years of luxury trips that Thomas took on Crow's dime without disclosing them—reporting that sparked calls for Thomas' resignation or impeachment.

But with impeachment unlikely given Republican control of the House, Democratic lawmakers have demanded that conservative Chief Justice John Roberts launch an investigation into Thomas' apparent disclosure law violations—something the high court's top judge has failed to do in response to other Thomas scandals, including his decision not to recuse himself from cases involving the 2020 election even though his wife was actively involved in efforts to overturn the results of that contest.

Thomas, who has worked to weaken federal transparency laws, also previously failed to disclose his wife's income from right-wing organizations.

In a statement last week, Thomas claimed he was "advised" by colleagues that the gifts from and trips with Crow—which included cruises on the billionaire's superyacht and private jet flights over a period of two decades—amounted to "personal hospitality" that shouldn't be reported.

Whitehouse on Thursday urged Congress to pass his Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency (SCERT) Act, which would strengthen recusal standards and disclosure rules on the high court and establish a clear process for investigating misconduct.

The Supreme Court, which has outsized power that it has recently used to roll back basic freedoms, is currently the only U.S. federal court without a binding code of ethical conduct.

According to ProPublica, Crow's purchase of property from Thomas and his relatives "marks the first known instance of money flowing from the Republican megadonor to the Supreme Court justice."

"The Crow company bought the properties for $133,363 from three co-owners—Thomas, his mother, and the family of Thomas' late brother, according to a state tax document and a deed dated Oct. 15, 2014, filed at the Chatham County courthouse," ProPublica noted. 

"The purchase put Crow in an unusual position: He now owned the house where the justice’s elderly mother was living. Soon after the sale was completed, contractors began work on tens of thousands of dollars of improvements on the two-bedroom, one-bathroom home, which looks out onto a patch of orange trees. The renovations included a carport, a repaired roof, and a new fence and gates."

"A federal disclosure law passed after Watergate requires justices and other officials to disclose the details of most real estate sales over $1,000," the outlet added. "Thomas never disclosed his sale of the Savannah properties. That appears to be a violation of the law, four ethics law experts told ProPublica."

Whitehouse said in response that "Justice Thomas told us that he didn't disclose free vacations on a superyacht and private jet because it was personal hospitality from a friend and that's just what friends do."

"Well, friends don't also buy your properties and deck them out for your family members to continue living in," the senator added. "And if all of this was on the up and up, why didn't Justice Thomas disclose it to the American people as the law clearly requires? The Supreme Court justices are so deeply ensconced in a cocoon of special interest money that they can no longer be trusted to police themselves without proper process."