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Justice Thomas' Statement on His Free Trips Doesn't Clear Up Much

Fix the Court executive director Gabe Roth released the following in light of Justice Thomas’ statement (Thomas’ follows Gabe’s below):

Rather than putting these issues to rest, Justice Thomas’ statement underscores several problems with the Supreme Court’s current gift and travel disclosure rules.

First, who are ‘my colleagues and others in the judiciary’ that Justice Thomas is getting ethics advice from? With no ethics code at the Supreme Court, it’s unlikely that the other justices and unnamed judiciary officials would all take the same view about the propriety of Thomas’ trips with the Crows and his decision to exclude them from his annual disclosures.

That’s why the nine need both an official code of conduct and dedicated ethics office at the Court to help the justices interpret their responsibilities as public officials in an ethical and consistent manner.

Second, it bears mentioning that Justice Thomas has been a justice since 1991, which is further back than the 25 years he’s known Harlan Crow. I’m happy that Justice Thomas was able to make a new friend in his 40s (not easy), but given who the friend is and his dedication to certain causes that intersect with the business of the Court, it’s reasonable to look at the friendship a bit askance.

Third, nothing in Justice Thomas’ statement changes the fact that lawmakers have a responsibility to dig into his travel to see if any laws were broken or if any other lavish trips were omitted from his disclosures. (Here’s one page of SCOTUS travel I’d start with, and if that’s too contentious, we can look at lower court judges‘ travel, too.) Justice Thomas should testify before Congress (in fact, he’s been back several times since 1991). Crow should testify. Fact-finding should occur.

All parties here, including Justice Thomas, have a stake in rebuilding public confidence in the Court’s integrity, and that can only happen once we have a complete picture of what’s transpired.

For reference — April 7 Justice Thomas’ statement on the ProPublica story:

Harlan and Kathy Crow are among our dearest friends, and we have been friends for over twenty-five years. As friends do, we have joined them on a number of family trips during the more than quarter century we have known them. Early in my tenure at the Court, I sought guidance from my colleagues and others in the judiciary, and was advised that this sort of personal hospitality from close personal friends, who did not have business before the Court was not reportable. I have endeavored to follow that counsel throughout my tenure, and have always sought to comply with the disclosure guidelines. These guidelines are now being changed, as the committee of the Judicial Conference responsible for financial disclosure for the entire federal judiciary just this past month announced new guidance. And, it is, of course, my intent to follow this guidance in the future.

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