According to a report by ProPublica, US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has been taking secret lavish vacations on a private jet and superyacht paid for by a GOP megadonor for years without disclosing them. Thomas, a conservative who joined the nation's highest court in 1991 and is currently the longest-serving member, has accepted the trips from real estate magnate and Republican donor Harlan Crow nearly every year for more than two decades, ProPublica reported, citing flight records, internal documents, and interviews. According to the report, Thomas has vacationed with Crow on his 162-foot yacht around the world, flown around on Crow's Bombardier Global 5000 jet, and stayed at his private resort in the Adirondacks almost every summer.
The report suggests that a June 2019 Indonesia vacation that Thomas and his wife went on, thanks to Crow, could have cost more than an estimated $500,000 if Thomas had chartered the yacht and plane himself. On a July 2017 trip at Harlan's Adirondacks resort, guests on the vacation besides Thomas included Republican donors, corporate executives, and a leader at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative-leaning think tank. Ethics experts and former and current judges that ProPublica spoke with said Thomas violated the normal conduct of judges by accepting such trips and may have violated the law by failing to disclose them on his annual financial records.
The report comes as the Supreme Court has been under increased scrutiny over ethics concerns. Critics have called for the justices to adopt an enforceable code of conduct and to be subject to stricter financial reporting rules. The Ethics in Government Act of 1978 requires all federal judges, including Supreme Court justices, to file annual financial disclosures that include reporting on gifts received. Yet they are exempt from disclosing "personal hospitality" they receive, which covers food, lodging, and entertainment. And unlike the rest of the federal judiciary, the Supreme Court is not bound by a code of conduct.
Following Thursday's report, several congressional Democrats condemned Thomas' behavior and renewed calls for greater transparency and accountability in the federal judiciary. A Supreme Court spokesperson did not immediately respond to the report.