Clarence Thomas faces impeachment calls after reports of undisclosed gifts | Clarence Thomas

Clarence Thomas, the most conservative justice on the US supreme court, is facing renewed calls for impeachment after it was reported that for two decades he has accepted undisclosed luxury gifts from a Republican mega-donor.

Thomas may have violated financial disclosure rules when he failed to disclose travel on yachts and jets and other gifts funded by the property billionaire Harlan Crow and uncovered by ProPublica.

It found that Thomas flies on Crow’s Bombardier Global 5000 jet and holidays on Crow’s 162ft super-yacht. He has enjoyed holidays at Crow’s ranch in Texas and joined him at an exclusive all-male California retreat. The justice usually spends about a week each summer at Crow’s private resort in the Adirondack mountains in New York.

The revelations prompted sharp criticism by Democrats of Thomas, who after 31 years is the longest-serving justice and an influential voice in the rightwing majority that last year ended the right to abortion.

Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois and chair of the Senate judiciary committee, said: “This behavior is simply inconsistent with the ethical standards the American people expect of any public servant, let alone a justice on the supreme court.

“Today’s report demonstrates, yet again, that supreme court justices must be held to an enforceable code of conduct, just like every other federal judge. The ProPublica report is a call to action, and the Senate judiciary committee will act.”

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a progressive congresswoman from New York, tweeted: “This is beyond party or partisanship. This degree of corruption is shocking – almost cartoonish. Thomas must be impeached. Barring some dramatic change, this is what the [chief justice John] Roberts court will be known for: rank corruption, erosion of democracy, and the stripping of human rights.”

Impeachment remains unlikely, even given other calls regarding the pro-Trump activities of Thomas’s wife, the rightwing activist Ginni Thomas, and not just because Republicans hold the House. Only one supreme court justice has ever been impeached: Samuel Chase, in 1804-05. He was acquitted in the Senate.

Thomas, 74, has made his humble origins a central part of his identity. He was born in Savannah, Georgia, and learned Geechee, a Creole language spoken by the descendants of slaves, before standard English. He was abandoned by his father but says his grandfather instilled his work ethic.

In a documentary which Crow helped finance, Thomas described no-frills tastes: “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. I come from regular stock, and I prefer that – I prefer being around that.”

ProPublica told a different story, drawn from flight records, internal documents and interviewees ranging from super-yacht staff to members of the secretive Bohemian Club to an Indonesian scuba-diving instructor.

It found that Thomas’s friendship with Crow has enabled him to experience luxuries he would never have been able to afford on his salary of $285,000. For example, in 2019, Thomas and his wife flew on Crow’s jet to Indonesia for nine days island-hopping on Crow’s yacht. The trip would have cost more than $500,000.

ProPublica also noted that each summer Thomas spends about a week at Camp Topridge, Crow’s Adirondacks resort. The 105-acre property offers boathouses, a clay tennis court, a batting cage and a replica of Hagrid’s hut from Harry Potter. A painting there shows Thomas enjoying a cigar alongside Crow and talking with influential rightwingers including the legal activist Leonard Leo.

ProPublica said: “The extent and frequency of Crow’s apparent gifts to Thomas have no known precedent in the modern history of the US supreme court.”

It said the trips do not appear in Thomas’s financial disclosures and cited two experts saying that appears to violate a law that requires justices, judges, members of Congress and federal officials to declare most gifts.

In a statement, Crow denied seeking to influence supreme court decisions. The Dallas businessman said he and his wife, Kathy, had been friends with the Thomases since 1996 and “the hospitality we have extended … is no different from the hospitality we have extended to our many other dear friends”.

Crow added: “Justice Thomas and Ginni never asked for any of this hospitality. We have never asked about a pending or lower-court case, and Justice Thomas has never discussed one, and we have never sought to influence Justice Thomas on any legal or political issue.

“More generally, I am unaware of any of our friends ever lobbying or seeking to influence Justice Thomas on any case, and I would never invite anyone who I believe had any intention of doing that. These are gatherings of friends.”

ProPublica said it reviewed a record showing that “during just one July 2017 trip, Thomas’ fellow guests included execs at Verizon and PricewaterhouseCoopers, major GOP donors, and one of the leaders of the conservative American Enterprise Institute thinktank”.

Sarah Lipton-Lubet, president of Take Back the Court Action Fund, said: “How many of Crow’s pet interests have had business in front of the court while Thomas was enjoying the lifestyle of the rich and famous on the right-wing mega-donor’s dime?

“Thomas’ repeated mockery of basic ethical standards calls into question every decision he has imposed on millions of Americans.”

Meagan Hatcher-Mays, of the grassroots movement Indivisible, called for the Senate judiciary committee to investigate “Thomas’s reported ethical lapses, and move quickly to hold hearings and votes on the Supreme Court Ethics, Transparency, and Recusal Act.

“The American people want to believe that the court is fair, that the justices behave ethically, and that their decisions are free from undue political influence.”

Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, Virginia, said the “alleged failure to report Harlan Crow’s substantial expenditures … could further undermine public trust in the supreme court and Thomas specifically.

“This is especially important now, when public trust in the court has plummeted in light of Dobbs overruling of Roe v Wade and the leaked opinion.”

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