(LibertySons.org) – A scandal involving Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s failure to declare that a billionaire GOP donor provided years of luxury trips broke during the first week of April. On Wednesday, June 7, legally mandated public financial disclosure reports became due. Seven of the nine Justices met the deadline and filed their disclosures, but Justices Samuel Alito and Thomas have requested 90-day extensions to file.
ProPublica first broke the story about Thomas and his wife Ginni accepting undisclosed annual trips from Texas political donor Harlan Crow for nearly 20 years on April 6. While some pundits debate whether Thomas should face ethical scrutiny for taking those trips, the actual legal dilemma stems from the fact that the Justice chose not to disclose them as gifts of significant value. That choice violated the stated ethics procedures which legally bind SCOTUS Justices.
On April 13, matters went from bad to worse when ProPublica published another story linking Thomas and Crow, this time through an undisclosed real estate transaction. In October 2014, Crow purchased Georgia properties that Thomas, his mother, and other family members owned. Thomas’s mother continued to live there as the new owner performed renovations. Yet, Thomas didn’t disclose his profits from the property sale as required by law. According to Slate, Leola Williams, Thomas’s mother, still lives in the Savannah home which Crow now owns.
A public ethics debate followed. Legislators questioned whether they needed to enact ethical standards for the Court. Invited to testify before Congress, Chief Justice John Roberts declined on April 25, sending a statement letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee signed by all nine Justices in which they asserted their Constitutional authority to decide and enforce the parameters of their own ethics based on the separation of powers principle. They attached their Statement of Ethics Principles and Practices as a supplement.
Alito has filed for extensions to report disclosures four years in a row. Justices can also file amendments for past years during the annual disclosures. The public can find a record of the Justices’ disclosures at Fix the Court, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit advocacy group promoting greater High Court transparency.
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