Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) went after Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas over his delayed disclosure of gifts and luxury vacations from a conservative donor Thursday, pledging to fully investigate the justice.
Thomas amended his financial disclosure forms Thursday to include a slate of luxury vacations and other gifts from billionaire Harlan Crow, which were previously revealed by investigative reporters and ramped up broader scrutiny of Supreme Court oversight and ethics.
“This late-come effort at ‘Clean-up on Aisle Three’ won’t deter us from fully investigating the massive, secret, right-wing billionaire influence in which this Court is enmired,” Whitehouse said Thursday, an apparent reference to Article Three of the Constitution, which regulates the Supreme Court.
Whitehouse, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on federal courts and oversight, has been a vocal critic of Thomas and proponent of imposing binding ethics rules on Supreme Court justices.
He pushed back on claims from Thomas attorneys’ that previous disclosure form omissions were simply mistakes, and that the trips only needed to be disclosed because of recent rule changes.
“These are highly contestable and significant, but largely unsupported, assertions. They matter,” he said.
The amended disclosures relate to real estate transactions and private trips with conservative donor Harlan Crow. Investigative outlet ProPublica has revealed that Thomas took dozens more trips paid for by notable conservative donors, in addition to luxury gifts like VIP sports tickets, which have not been disclosed.
Justice Samuel Alito also filed his disclosure this week after requesting an extension, and has faced criticism for reports that he accepted lavish gifts from billionaire donors.
Thomas in his disclosure newly claimed he asked employees of the Judicial Conference, the organization which oversees the federal judiciary, for advice on disclosures and that the omissions of the trips were not willful, because they were not required to be disclosed in his understanding of the rules.
“If there is a plausible question of willfulness, the Judicial Conference is obliged by statute to make a referral to the Attorney General to make that determination [to investigate],” Whitehouse continued. “They are obviously desperate to avoid that, to keep this mess in the clubby precincts of the Court and the justices’ own private lawyers.”
Thomas’s attorney defended the justice’s disclosures and actions.
“Justice Thomas’s critics allege that he failed to report gifts from wealthy friends. Untrue,” Elliot Berke said in a statement.
“He has never accepted a gift from anyone with business before the Court. For anyone who knows him at all, it is clear that no one influences Justice Clarence Thomas’s jurisprudence. But friends are dear, close, and separate,” Berke continued.
Democrats, including Whitehouse, have advocated for efforts to implement a code of ethics on the Supreme Court. An ethics reform bill passed through the Judiciary Committee on party lines in July.