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Clarence Thomas Living Large on Billionaire Largesse

The South Dakota Supreme Court may be impervious to purchase, but what about the United States Supreme Court? ProPublica, which just won again against billionaire T. Denny Sanford in court in South Dakota, spent yesterday alerting the public to billionaire Republican donor Harlan Crow’s luxurious treatment of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas:

In late June 2019, right after the U.S. Supreme Court released its final opinion of the term, Justice Clarence Thomas boarded a large private jet headed to Indonesia. He and his wife were going on vacation: nine days of island-hopping in a volcanic archipelago on a superyacht staffed by a coterie of attendants and a private chef.

If Thomas had chartered the plane and the 162-foot yacht himself, the total cost of the trip could have exceeded $500,000.

Fortunately for him, that wasn’t necessary: He was on vacation with real estate magnate and Republican megadonor Harlan Crow, who owned the jet — and the yacht, too.

For more than two decades, Thomas has accepted luxury trips virtually every year from the Dallas businessman without disclosing them, documents and interviews show. A public servant who has a salary of $285,000, he has vacationed on Crow’s superyacht around the globe. He flies on Crow’s Bombardier Global 5000 jet. He has gone with Crow to the Bohemian Grove, the exclusive California all-male retreat, and to Crow’s sprawling ranch in East Texas. And Thomas typically spends about a week every summer at Crow’s private resort in the Adirondacks.

The extent and frequency of Crow’s apparent gifts to Thomas have no known precedent in the modern history of the U.S. Supreme Court [Joshua Kaplan, Justin Elliott, and Alex Mierjeski, “Clarence Thomas and the Billionaire,” ProPublica, 2023.04.06].

ProPublica notes that such luxury vacations don’t fit Justice Thomas’s effort to portray himself in a documentary financed by Crow as a regular guy who’d park his RV at Walmart:

“I don’t have any problem with going to Europe, but I prefer the United States, and I prefer seeing the regular parts of the United States,” Thomas said in a recent interview for a documentary about his life, which Crow helped finance.

“I prefer the RV parks. I prefer the Walmart parking lots to the beaches and things like that. There’s something normal to me about it,” Thomas said. “I come from regular stock, and I prefer that — I prefer being around that” [Kaplan, Elliott, and Mierjeski, 2023.04.06].

Thomas’s failure to disclose Crow’s lavish gifts pose ethical and legal problems:

Thomas didn’t report any of the trips ProPublica identified on his annual financial disclosures. Ethics experts said the law clearly requires disclosure for private jet flights and Thomas appears to have violated it.

Justices are generally required to publicly report all gifts worth more than $415, defined as “anything of value” that isn’t fully reimbursed. There are exceptions: If someone hosts a justice at their own property, free food and lodging don’t have to be disclosed. That would exempt dinner at a friend’s house. The exemption never applied to transportation, such as private jet flights, experts said, a fact that was made explicit in recently updated filing instructions for the judiciary.

Two ethics law experts told ProPublica that Thomas’ yacht cruises, a form of transportation, also required disclosure.

“If Justice Thomas received free travel on private planes and yachts, failure to report the gifts is a violation of the disclosure law,” said Kedric Payne, senior director for ethics at the nonprofit government watchdog Campaign Legal Center. (Thomas himself once reported receiving a private jet trip from Crow, on his disclosure for 1997.)

The experts said Thomas’ stays at Topridge may have required disclosure too, in part because Crow owns it not personally but through a company. Until recently, the judiciary’s ethics guidance didn’t explicitly address the ownership issue. The recent update to the filing instructions clarifies that disclosure is required for such stays [Kaplan, Elliott, and Mierjeski, 2023.04.06].

Gee, maybe someone ought to take Justice Thomas to court….


  1. Richard Schriever 2023-04-07 08:12

    I wonder if the DOJ has a “rule” against charging SCOTUS justices with crimes while they are on the bench?

  2. Loren 2023-04-07 08:40

    OK, Clarence didn’t reveal these “gifts” on his annual disclosure form. What about his IRS tax form? Wouldn’t a $500,000 vacation trip be considered income, or does Harlan get to deduct that $$$ as his “business expense?” ;-)

  3. larry kurtz 2023-04-07 08:55

    As far back as 2012 Working Assets urged Justice Thomas to recuse himself when SCOTUS was hearing appeals on the PPACA

    Amidst accusations of ethics violations, on the day that the Court decided to hear the challenge of the new health care law, Thomas and Justice Antonin Scalia were honored at a benefit put on by the same firm that is leading the challenge and the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer. And Thomas’ wife has received an undisclosed salary paid for by undisclosed donors as CEO of Liberty Central, a 501(c)(4) organization that was formed to take advantage of Citizens United rules and to play an active role in the 2010 elections. There is a clear appearance of a conflict of interest between his wife’s clear financial stake in overturning the health care law and Justice Thomas’ personal duty to exhibit the highest degree of discretion and impartiality.

    In 2015 Public Policy Polling released findings that reveal Justice Thomas is the least favorite member of the Supreme Court of the United States even among African-Americans.

    But it seems important to add that until Justice Clarence Thomas’ tenure the late Justice Antonin Scalia had been the longest serving member of the Court, resided in McLean, Virginia, and was a devout, traditionalist Catholic uncomfortable with the changes in the Church caused by Vatican II. Scalia prefered the Latin Mass and drove long distances to parishes which he felt were more in accord with his beliefs but

  4. e platypus onion 2023-04-07 08:59

    Uncle Thomas will declare another high tech lynching and tha magat howling chorus will be accusing everyone of being racists because Uncle Thomas happens to be a self privileged Black.

  5. grudznick 2023-04-07 09:27

    They are probably just good friends. Family friends.

  6. Francis Schaffer 2023-04-07 09:57

    It seems to me if Harlan claims business expenses on any of the components of Clarence’s ‘vacations’; a 1099 needs to be issued for the beneficiary of the expense. Of course what the hell do I know about the perks of being uber wealthy.

  7. 96Tears 2023-04-07 10:26

    Tax evasion. It’s what got Al Capone. It will probably land Trump in jail. Unreported annual gifts in the half-million-dollar range would be a bigtime Bozo No No.

  8. e platypus onion 2023-04-07 11:24

    Business Insider claims billionaire has given thousands to Manchin and Sinema, too. Might be trying to buy them all.

  9. bearcreekbat 2023-04-07 12:33

    First, be assured that I am no expert on federal taxation so my comment ought to be taken as speculation, not fact at this point. Maybe someone more knowledgable than I can confirm, reject or clarify.

    Anyway, it is my understanding that gifts are not taxed as income to the recipient, so it looks like Thomas had no federal tax obligation to report these lavish gifts. If they were bribes, however, then I believe they are fully taxable as income.

    Harlan Crow, as the gift giver, however would have had an obligation to report gifts valued at over $17,000 and pay a gift tax on such gifts. Thus, if anyone violated federal tax law, it would be the giver by failing to report such a valuable gift, not the recipient. I have no idea whether Harlan made the required reports and paid the required gift tax. Again, if this was intended as a bribe there would have been no gift tax for Crow, and I suppose he might have even been able to take a tax deduction for a business expense.

  10. Loren 2023-04-07 12:50

    Thanks for the explanation, bear. Why doesn’t that make me feel better? ;-)

  11. Mark Anderson 2023-04-07 13:03

    Well grudz I’m sure that Clarence laps up whatever his good friend puts out.

  12. John 2023-04-07 14:06

    Jon Stewart was / is correct – the problem is the whole thing: courts, congress, some in the executive branch – is / are corrupt.
    The not-so-supreme court recently redefined corruption by making the proof be specific and direct. I.e. ‘this trip, vacation, money is for the purpose of your vote on “x”‘; as opposed to the former 100+ years understanding of political corruption being buying influence.

    The good news is that the republicants are killing themselves. First, their lack of healthcare considerations are killing their elderly voters. Second, their absolutism on abortion is driving young generations to be anti-republican. Third, their absolutism on being ammo-sexuals is driving the young, who lived with school active shooter drillers to be anti-republican.

  13. bearcreekbat 2023-04-07 17:25

    Loren, no problem, and it doesn’t make me feel any better either.

    platypus – thanks. If I am not mistaken, the SCOTUS enforces these requirements against Judges from federAL appellate courts, and federal appellate courts enforces the rules against federal district court judges. But I am unaware of any enforcement mechanism against Justices of the SCOTUS – maybe Congress through impeachment?

  14. e platypus onion 2023-04-07 17:47

    You know impeachment won’t happen without a super majority Democratic Senate. and a Democratic controlled house.

  15. sx123 2023-04-07 18:27

    I doubt he did anything wrong. Congress can’t really tell the Supreme Court what to do due to separation of powers. Supreme Court justices need friends too. He just happened to have a pretty wealthy one.

  16. e platypus onion 2023-04-07 18:45

    McCTurtlefartface wanted to pack the Scotus and have them legislate from the bench so Dems can’t undo damage to voting rights, Roe, and a host of other anti-democratic surprises. He sure didn’t concern himself with separation of power issues.

  17. John 2023-04-07 18:59

    Further evidence that the republicants are killing themselves. Since 2011 217 labor and delivery departments closed in hospitals across the nation – most in rural areas, Hospitals announced 13 labor and delivery closures this year alone, The US has low infant and maternal survival compared to the advanced world – and its getting worse. Now a McConnell federal judge in Texas banned the abortion pill nationwide. Mind you, the pill’s side effects are safer than those for taking penicillin or Viagra. The republicant party is racing to oblivion.

  18. Mark Anderson 2023-04-07 19:34

    Guys, Republican’s believe that everyone else is lazy and out for freebies. Yes they are that stupidly lazy. What can anyone say about their idiotic state of mind. My own prejudice is that Republican’s are either trust fund babies or else rural goonies who are also preppers. I’m leaving out all their Ayn Rand fantasies and anti LGBTQ bullcrap and racist tendencies, their anti science malarkey. I’m just stopping, I could go on and on and on and on.

  19. Page James 2023-04-07 21:59

    I would hope some hot shot DA would call Mr. Crow in for a chat on paying his gift tax obligations regarding Thomas. A little digging might bring up a lot of bribes disguised as non tax paid gifts.

  20. Loren 2023-04-08 11:11

    OK, sx, if I bought you a drink or paid for your dinner, that would be me being “hospitable.” If I picked you up in my private jet, flew you to Asia for some island hopping on my yacht, am I being “hospitable” or am I giving you a “gift?” If you say “gift,” would you consider it to be valued more than $415, the reportable sum? In either case, I’m sure you would feel no obligation to repay such “hospitality/gift.” (cough… cough…)

  21. larry kurtz 2023-04-08 12:59

    By placing constitutional interpretation in the hands of a council of unaccountable ideologues, the temptation to use that power for political purposes is overwhelming. Packing the Court is completely in keeping with previous law and tradition; indeed, it was FDR’s preferred option. But at bottom, it would preserve the principle of judicial review, while mostly abolishing it in a cumbersome manner with an unclear resolution. A judicial system that limits itself to adjudicating criminal and civil cases, and making sure that legislation is interpreted consistently, can fill a necessary and proper role. The Supreme Court, drunk on unchecked power for too long, must be brought to heel.

  22. e platypus onion 2023-04-08 13:21

    Texass judge cited the “Comstock” act when blabbing about the abortion pill and was ridiculed for it. Exactly who was mailing drugs across state lines for the purpose of prostitution?

  23. e platypus onion 2023-04-08 14:11

    RU-486 was approved for use in America in 2000, which means it is over 21 y/o/a and cannot be illegal under the Comstock Act which was applicable to minors. drumpf appointed judges aren’t the sharpest knives in the judicial drawer.

  24. e platypus onion 2023-04-08 14:33

    Mann Act or Comstock Act? What the hell’s the difference. I freely admit I am not judge material. If nominated I will not serve a term as your US Judge.

  25. grudznick 2023-04-08 16:24

    Mr. Loren, there are fellows in the world, like you, who simply share their blessings with their close personal friends. grudznick, for instance, has often bought breakfast for Bob, and would do so once again for Lar if he wasn’t banned from South Dakota or I had a way to get down to Mexico, the newer.

  26. O 2023-04-08 17:06

    Let it slide. . . after all it’s not like he accepted $128,203 in value for car and driver services that he neglected to pay taxes on, then paid those taxes (with interest/penalties). THAT kind of neglect should cost a good man a position as HHS Secretary. It is a good thing that Republicans (and Democrats) don’t hold conservatives up to the same ethical standards to which they hold Liberals — otherwise there would be NOBODY left in Washington.

    Mitch McConnell (and the Federalist Society) saw the long game of creating a judicial system that was above the law; now that corruption intrinsic to the judges carrying out that mission shows more and more.

  27. Mark Anderson 2023-04-10 21:41

    Oh grudz, he became a close personal friend years after he was on the Supreme court. Why not admit he’s buying a vote on the court? It’s easy to do.

  28. e platypus onion 2023-04-11 13:26

    Uncle Tom C Thomas insists money from Nazi memorabilia collector and friend oif Clarence does not buy influence, but magats claim, without a shred of evid3nce that Holocaust survivor Soros billions buy influence from Democrats.

  29. e platypus onion 2023-04-14 08:49

    Bad Clarence, bad!

    Apparently, Clarence sold Harlan Crow the house Clarence’s mom was living in, and which she still continues to live in.

    What are the odds that she now lives there rent-free? I’d say they’re pretty good, based everything else we’ve been learning about Clarence and his sugar daddy, Harlan Crow.

    but, Hillary had emails, wahhhhhh!

  30. bearcreekbat 2023-04-16 00:55

    larry, I read your linked story and saw no such claim, report or other information saying anything about Crow paying Kavanaugh’s bills. I followed up with a quick Google search and found only one reference to a twitter tweet making such a claim. Can you provide an actual credible source to support the statement “There is a widely held view that Harlan Crow paid off all Brett Kavanaugh’s bills?” I am not saying it didn’t happen because I don’t know, but I could find nothing credible supporting such claim.

  31. larry kurtz 2023-04-16 07:25

    Hi bat. It’s also a widely held view that Americans will never learn how often Republican oligarchs buy politicians and judges but we certainly know the why. As long as the Electoral College installs chief executives white guys like Harlan Crow and Leonard Leo have free rein to eliminate an impartial judiciary to ensure the absence of accountability.

  32. e platypus onion 2023-04-16 09:23

    Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has reported rental income worth hundreds of thousands of dollars from a real estate firm that has been defunct for nearly 20 years, the latest investigation into the embattled judge revealed Sunday.

    Waaaayyyy past time to question Thomas’ honesty and integrity, don’t you think?

  33. bearcreekbat 2023-04-16 10:33

    Thanks larry. Personally I discount supposed “widely held views” (i.e. conspiracy theories) as a potential form of misleading propaganda designed to mislead and distract, often for financial and/or political gain, unless the proponent can identify clear supporting credible evidence.

    Thus I tend to ask “Where’s the beef.”,Democratic%20Party's%20presidential%20election%20candidate.

  34. larry kurtz 2023-04-16 10:47

    No worries, bat. Life is art. Public opinion is still opinion. American justice is an oxymoron.

    It’s important to remember theories are arguably provable while hypotheses are often mostly informed hunches so conspiracy theories are not theories at all — at best they’re conjecture and at worst they’re malicious prevarications, even slander or libel.

  35. larry kurtz 2023-04-20 12:48

    The Chair of Senate Judiciary has asked catholic Chief Justice John Roberts to address the overwhelming evidence of wrongdoing at SCOTUS.

  36. e platypus onion 2023-06-21 13:36

    Injustice Alito posted an opinion in WSJ yesterday trying to prempt a Pro-Publica report of Alito being treated to expensive fishing trip from Paul Singer, who later had business in front of Alito and the court. P_P article came out today.

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