Lawmakers Revive SCOTUS Ethics Debate

Sens. Richard Durbin Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse during aSenate Judiciary Committee hearing in 2022. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

A ProPublica investigation into hospitality and gifts Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas received from a Texas billionaire has reignited congressional debate over ethics rules for the court.

Based on flight records, interviews with yacht staff, and other granular reporting, the story details a more than two-decade relationship between Thomas and Harlan Crow, a real estate magnate and Republican donor. (Disclosure: Harlan Crow is a minority investor in The Dispatch and a friend of the founders.)

Thomas has taken flights on Crow’s private jet, vacationed on his yacht, and traveled to Crow’s properties—but Thomas hasn’t revealed most of those trips in his financial disclosures, despite a 1978 law that requires justices and other public officials to disclose most gifts annually. Until last month, Thomas may have been able to argue the gifts and travel fell under a personal hospitality exemption to the disclosure law, but the Supreme Court has released new guidelines specifying free trips and air travel need to be disclosed.

“The ProPublica report is a call to action, and the Senate Judiciary Committee will act,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard Durbin said Thursday.

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