Embattled Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas revealed he took three trips in 2022 on Republican megadonor Harlan Crow’s private plane in an annual financial disclosure form made public Thursday.
Thomas said he flew on his billionaire friend’s plane partly due to security concerns after the leak last spring of the Supreme Court’s opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned nationwide abortion rights.
Both Thomas and Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito requested 90-day extensions to file their disclosure forms earlier this year. Alito’s forms were also released Thursday, with details on various teaching jobs at schools including Duke University.
The other justices’ forms were released months ago.
Two of Thomas’ three trips brought him to Crow’s hometown of Dallas, where Thomas spoke at an American Enterprise Institute conference in February 2022 and again in May 2022. Thomas reported that he flew on Crow’s private jet on the return leg to Washington in February 2022 “due to [an] unexpected ice storm.”
The third trip, in July 2022, appeared to be social; Thomas lists the purpose as “guests of source.” Crow flew the justice to Keese Mill, New York, where Crow owns a vast Adirondacks estate.
Thomas accepted one other trip last year, paid for by the right-wing Orrin G. Hatch Foundation in exchange for speaking at a Salt Lake City event in March 2022. In addition to the trips, Thomas was paid $12,000 by the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University, an institution that has cultivated strong ties to the Supreme Court by pampering justices.
Thomas has been under fire in recent months as the extent of his friendship with Crow and relationships with other powerful figures became public. Over the last three decades, he has accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of private flights, private yacht trips, luxury vacations and private school tuition for his adopted son.
His 2022 financial disclosure form contains a lengthy explanation of his travel and financial records citing new disclosure requirements that went into effect in March in response to criticism over the Supreme Court’s lack of any unified ethics rules.
The new disclosure guidance for the justices clarified when they needed to disclose that a third party paid for their travel, meals or other accommodations. In the past, justices, including Thomas, have asserted a “personal hospitality” exemption from disclosure for gifts, travel and accommodations provided by friends. The late Justice Antonin Scalia was an expert in claiming these unreported gifts, failing to disclose dozens of hunting trips he went on that were paid by others.
In the note on Thomas’ financial disclosure report, he also finally reported the sale of the Savannah, Georgia, property where his mother lives to Crow. The 2014 sale, which had gone undisclosed for years, was first reported by ProPublica earlier in 2023. Thomas claims that the omission was made “inadvertently.”
While Thomas initially included the property on his financial disclosures, he claims he “was advised by Committee staff to remove the two properties from his disclosure forms” because “these properties no longer generated any rental income.”
“[F]iler inadvertently failed to realize that the ‘sales transaction’ for the final disposition of the three properties triggered a new reportable transaction in 2014, even though this sale resulted in a capital loss,” Thomas’ report states.
While Thomas did report his 2022 trips paid for by Crow and the home sale, he did not amend previous reports to disclose many of the gifts, trips and transactions that he has reportedly failed to report over the years.
“Justice Thomas’ lengthy explanation as to why he omitted various gifts and free trips on previous disclosures does not countermand his decades of willful obfuscation when it comes to his reporting requirements,” Gabe Roth, executive director of the court reform group Fix The Court, said in a statement.
“What’s more, he’s chosen not to update earlier reports with details about the tuition gift, the RV loan or his countless private plane fights, all of which were reportable,” Roth added. “It’s time for the Judicial Conference, as required by the disclosure law, to refer these issues to the Justice Department for further investigation.”
This is not the first time Thomas has been forced to amend or correct his financial disclosures following reports about omissions. In 2011, Thomas disclosed 13 years of details related to his wife’s employment by conservative activist groups that he previously failed to report.
Just like with his recent disclosure of the Savannah home sale, Thomas chalked that omission up as having been “inadvertently omitted due to a misunderstanding of the filing instructions.”
In July, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would impose a set of stringent ethics rules on the Supreme Court, similar to the rules that apply to members of Congress. However, because the Republicans who control the chamber largely oppose the measure, it faces slim odds to passage.