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The debate over Clarence Thomas’ luxury vacations

activists call for the impeachment of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas outside of the U.S. Capitol Building Paul Morigi/Getty Images for MoveOn
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has recently come under heavy scrutiny after a ProPublica report revealed he had taken several luxury vacations over the past two decades financed by billionaire Republican mega-donor Harlan Crow, which he never disclosed on financial disclosure forms. The lavish trips included flights on Crow’s private jets and cruises on his “superyacht,” one of which would have cost Thomas and his wife, Ginni Thomas, over $500,000, ProPublica estimated. The extent of gifts Thomas received from Crow has “no known precedent in the modern history of the U.S. Supreme Court,” ProPublica said.
Thomas stopped reporting his received gifts in 2004 after the Los Angeles Times reported on the tens of thousands of dollars worth of gifts he had accepted over the previous six years, much of which came from Crow.
A group of Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee wrote a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts, imploring him to launch an investigation into the reports about Thomas’s luxury vacations on a donor’s dime without disclosing them. “If the Court does not resolve this issue on its own, the Committee will consider legislation to resolve it,” the Democrats wrote. Should Thomas be held accountable for hiding his gifted vacations?
‘The Supreme Court is not going to police itself’
The Supreme Court needs to reform how it polices itself, and should consider instituting a mandatory ethics code, says Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, in the Los Angeles Times. “In the meantime,” Waldman opines, “Congress or the Justice Department should investigate Thomas’ conduct to let the public know the facts and whether the gifts and trips he received violated the law.” There is “ample precedent” for these types of investigations, Waldman explains, noting that Congress investigated Justice Abe Fortas in 1968 after he took “undisclosed support from a wealthy friend.” Fortas resigned before he could be impeached.
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“The Supreme Court is not going to police itself,” Jamelle Bouie surmises in The New York Times. The only remedy to the court’s corruption, Bouie adds, “is to subject it to the same checks and limits we associate with the other branches.” The Democratic Party “will have to abandon its squeamishness about challenging and shaping the Supreme Court.” In the end, “it is up to elected officials to remind the court that it serves the republic and not the other way around,” Bouie concludes.
Democrats are just trying to ‘smear’ conservative justices
The news about Thomas’s luxury excursions is a “non-bombshell” that the left is using to smear the Supreme Court, The Wall Street Journal said in an editorial. The demands that Thomas resign or be investigated or impeached “give away the real political game here.” Thomas’s critics intend to “smear the conservative Justices and tarnish the Court to tee up case recusals, impeachment or a Court-packing scheme if Democrats get enough Senate votes to break the filibuster,” the Journal added.
The only scandal Bret Stephens of The New York Times sees is that the luxury trips don’t match Thomas’s “self-portrait as a guy who likes to drive his R.V. around the country, spending nights in Walmart parking lots.” No rules required justices to disclose information about vacations taken with wealthy friends until last month. That makes the idea of “the idea of trying to toss him off the court a nonstarter,” Stephens mused, “not to mention a bad precedent lest some liberal justices turn out to have rich and generous friends, too.”
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