WASHINGTON - ProPublica reported on Thursday that Justice Clarence Thomas failed to disclose in 2014 that he sold a number of properties to an influential conservative from Texas.
This is the first time that money has been transferred directly from a billionaire donor (Harlan Crow) to a justice in a violation of the disclosure rules.
This revelation has increased scrutiny of Justice Thomas who, due to his wife Virginia Thomas's political activism, has raised questions about conflicts of interest for years. Justice Thomas's relationship to the real estate mogul has attracted a lot of attention since ProPublica revealed last week that he went on lavish trips with Mr. Crow for almost 20 years, without disclosing the details. This included island hopping in Indonesia and spending time in Mr. Crow’s Adirondack Mountains lakeside retreat. These disclosures have led to calls from Democratic lawmakers and court-transparency advocates that the justices be subjected to stricter ethics restrictions.
ProPublica reported that in 2014, a company connected to Mr. Crow purchased a single family home and two vacant lot on a quiet Savannah Street, paying Justice Thomas and his wife $133,363 for the property.
Justice Thomas declined to comment on a question. In a recent statement, Justice Thomas said that he was told not to disclose the hospitality shown by his friends.
The justice stated that he had sought advice from his colleagues and other members of the judiciary early in his tenure and was told to not report this type of hospitality by close friends who didn't have any business before the court.
In a letter to The New York Times Mr. Crow explained that the purchase was a part of his "broader commitment to historic preservation and American Education."
He said: 'I intend to create a museum one day at the Thomas house to tell the story of the second Black Supreme Court Justice in our country, who was raised in Savannah and born in Pin Point in Georgia.'
ProPublica reports that one of Mr. Crow’s companies purchased the property from three different owners: Justice Thomas and his mother, as well as the family of Justice Thomas’s late brother. Contractors made improvements to the house where Justice Thomas' mother lived after the sale.
The most recent revelation, according to advocates pushing for more transparency in the court, went far beyond the usual social activities of friends.
In a press release, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (Democrat, Rhode Island) said that he will call on the federal court policy-making body to refer Justice Thomas's case to the Attorney General for possible violations of the government ethics laws.
He said that the Supreme Court Justices were so ensconced with special interest money, that they could no longer be trusted without a proper process to police themselves. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., he added, should launch an ethics investigation to investigate Justice Thomas's financial connections to Mr. Crow, and his "apparent brazen disregard" for disclosure laws.
It is not known what the net worth of Justice Thomas's wife and himself are. The financial disclosures filed by the Justices provide a good idea of what is known. The disclosures of Mr. Crow did not include recent gifts, travels or land purchases. Associate justices, like Justice Thomas, earn an annual salary between $285.400 and $319.500. Chief Justice Roberts earns $298,500.
Ginni Thomas, also known as Ms. Thomas or Ginni Thomas, is well-known for her conservative activism.
Justice Thomas was questioned about whether he should have recused him from Supreme Court cases relating to the riot because of her involvement. He was involved in several cases that dealt with Jan. 6, or the outcome for the 2020 elections.
In 2011, a watchdog group called Common Cause criticized the Justice for not disclosing his wife's income. This was $700,000 in five years from the Heritage Foundation, an conservative think tank. The justice amended 20 years' worth of filings.
The friendship between Justice Thomas, Mr. Crow and the Court dates back to the mid-1990s when Justice Thomas was appointed.
The Los Angeles Times reported in 2004 that Mr. Crow had given the justice a number gifts, including a Bible owned by Frederick Douglass, the abolitionist and an Abraham Lincoln bust worth $15,000.
Justice Thomas has stopped reporting gifts and trips, but he still maintains a relationship with Mr. Crow.
Mr. Crow contributed to the financing of a project in Savannah that was dedicated to justice. He initially anonymously donated $150,000 for the renovation of a Carnegie Library. The only library in the area that was open to Blacks, the justice described his hours spent there as a youngster.
The Times reported in 2011 that Mr. Crow secretly invested millions of dollars to purchase and restore a cannery at Pin Point where Justice Thomas lived for the first six of his life. In coastal lowlands of the town, freed slaves made a living by harvesting crabs, oysters, and shrimp.
The Pin Point Heritage Museum was created from the Pin Point Cannery.
Mr. Crow is a conservative who has been active for many years. He is a trustee at the George W. Bush Presidential Library Foundation. He also donated $500,000 to an organization that aimed to increase public support for Bush's Supreme Court nominees. He also donated $500,000 to Ms. Thomas when she founded a Tea Party group several years back.
Since 2006, Mr. Crow is also a trustee for the Supreme Court Historical Society. This charity asks that you donate at least $5,000 per year to preserve and educate the public about the history of the court.
The justice has also been invited to gathers at Camp Topridge in the Adirondacks, where Mr. Crow owns a private resort. A painting commissioned by Mr. Crow shows the justice smoking a cigar with Leonard A. Leo - a conservative who has been a force for pushing courts to their right - Mark Paoletta - a former White House Counsel who played a major role in Justice Thomas’s confirmation – and Peter Rutledge – a lawyer and a former clerk to Justice Thomas.