The federal judiciary released the 2022 financial disclosures of Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito today, yet these documents leave several unanswered questions and point to the inadequacy of the reports.
After offering a lengthy prologue in the “additional information” section of his report, in which he defended his many years of disclosure omissions, Justice Thomas did account for his 2014 real estate transaction with Harlan Crow (earlier in his report, he noted the Crow put him on his private plane at least five times in 2022), and the justice added some information about his wife Ginni’s bank accounts and real estate holdings that were either previously omitted or listed incorrectly.
But that does not give a complete picture of Thomas’ omissions over the years. FTC believes Thomas should file amendments reflecting all of the free private plane trips and non-entertainment helicopter rides trips he’s taken (do not count as “personal hospitality”); the loan he received for his RV (undoubtedly a reportable gift); the money he received from Harlan Crow for his grand-nephew’s tuition (also a gift); and the several private plane trips he’s listed on his disclosures from “sources,” like the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs and St. Benedict’s Prep, that assuredly do not own planes.
“Justice Thomas’ lengthy explanation as to why he omitted various gifts and free trips on previous disclosures does not countermand his decades of willful obfuscation when it comes to his reporting requirements,” FTC’s Gabe Roth said.
“What’s more, he’s chosen not to update earlier reports with details about the tuition gift, the RV loan or his countless private plane fights, all of which were reportable. It’s time for the Judicial Conference, as required by the disclosure law, to refer these issues to the Justice Department for further investigation.”
On Monday, FTC reached out to the Judicial Conference’s Committee on Financial Disclosure (CFD) to inquire if they had met to discuss Thomas’ disclosure issues. We have yet to receive a response. The Conference had referred to the CFD in April a review of “allegations of errors or omissions” in Thomas’ filings. Under federal law, the Judicial Conference “shall refer to the Attorney General the name of any individual” that the CFD “has reasonable cause to believe has […] willfully failed to file information required to be reported.” “Reasonable cause” is a low bar.
That Thomas did not list reimbursement for lodging when he spoke at the Feb. and May 2022 Old Parkland Conferences implies he stayed at Harlan Crow’s house both times, as the personal hospitality exemption for private residences remains in effect. Though in February Thomas got a Crow plane ride back to Washington, it’s unclear from his description who paid for Thomas’ flight to Dallas that month.
Thomas reported receiving no gifts valued at more than $415, or aggregating to a value greater than $415, last year. He’s only reported two gifts on his last 20 disclosures (2003-2022): a stained glass medallion from Yale Law in 2014 and a Frederick Douglass bust from Crow in 2015.
For the first time, Thomas reported teaching at Scalia Law (and making $12,000 from it, far below the 2022 teaching cap of $30,555), joining Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh as instructors there. The senior associate justice again listed that his wife Ginni was employed by Liberty Consulting, which he valued at “J,” or $15,000 or less, which is how he also valued it in 2021, down from a high of between $100,001 and $250,000 in 2019.
Justice Alito’s disclosure shows that in 2022 he made $29,250 from teaching at Duke Law and Regent Law; received free transportation, food and lodging from Duke Law and Notre Dame Law, the latter to Rome; and reported no gifts.
Yet these are the only details the public gets about Alito’s Rome trip. Had it been a Sen. or Rep. Alito who took the same trip, we’d learn about the cost of his flight, meals, lodging and entertainment; the other locations around Rome he may have traveled to on Notre Dame’s dime; and the agenda of the “Summit” he reported attending. This points to the inadequacy of the disclosures in their current form, which would be fixed by Section 3 of the Senate Judiciary-passed Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal and Transparency bill.
FTC had hoped that Justice Alito would have sold more of his stocks in 2022, but he only shed shares in CDK Global, and that might have been due to its acquisition by a larger conglomerate on July 7 (Alito “sold” his shares a day later). He bought Anheuser Busch Inbev shares last year and added Woodside Energy Group, a spinoff from another oil company whose shares he owns, and now owns a stake in 29 companies. In calendar year 2022, Alito recused in 20 petitions due to his stock ownership; so far in 2023, there have been 16 Alito stock-based recusals.
As described below, many of Alito’s 2022 public events took place in Washington, thus requiring no transportation, lodging or reimbursements, or were done remotely.
One final note: as of 9:30 a.m. ET today, only 372, or 15%, of an estimated 2,500 lower-court judges’ 2022 disclosures had been posted in the online database, in violation of the Courthouse Ethics and Transparency Act, which required all disclosures for which no extension was requested to be posted by mid-August.
Justice Thomas’ 2022 events (ones we didn’t know about until today are in bold):
— Speaks at American Enterprise Institute’s Conference at Old Parkland (2/3-5/22): No video
— Speaks with Utah Supreme Court Justice Thomas Lee at the Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City, an event sponsored by the Orrin G. Hatch Foundation (3/11/22): No video
— Speaks to the Eleventh Circuit Judicial Conference in Atlanta (5/6/22): No video
— Speaks at the Old Parkland Conference, an event sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute, Manhattan Institute and Hoover Institution, in Dallas (5/13/22): Link to video
— Guest of Harlan Crow at Topridge (7/7-13/22): No video
— Teaches at Scalia Law with Prof. Jennifer Mascott (12/20/22): No video
Justice Alito’s 2022 events:
— Teaches at Regent University School of Law in Virginia Beach, Va., during a three-day seminar called “Select Issues in Constitutional Interpretation” (1/10-12/22): No video
— Cancels his appearance but sends a brief video to the Fifth Circuit Judicial Conference in Nashville (5/6/22): No video
— Speaks remotely to the fourth annual Scalia Forum, held at the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University (5/12/22): No video
— Teaches in Duke University School of Law’s Master of Judicial Studies LLM Program (5/20-21/22): No video
— Speaks to the Notre Dame Law School Religious Liberty Initiative in Rome (7/21/22): Link to video
— Speaks at Catholic University’s Columbus School of Law in Washington, D.C. (9/27/22): No video
— Gives the 2022 Joseph Story Distinguished Lecture at the Heritage Foundation (Q&A with John Malcolm) in Washington, D.C. (10/25/22): Link to video
— Speaks at the Federalist Society’s national convention in Washington, D.C. (11/10/22): No video