April 24, 2023

Chief Justice Roberts Defers to Judicial Conference on Need for Investigation of Justice Thomas’ Extravagant Billionaire-Funded Trips

SCERT Act sponsored by Sen. Whitehouse and Rep. Johnson would require SCOTUS to adopt stricter disclosure rules and enact a process for investigating misconduct

Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Representative Hank Johnson (D-GA) today announced that the Chief Justice of the United States deferred any possible investigation into Justice Clarence Thomas’ extensive billionaire-funded luxury travel and other outstanding allegations of misconduct to the Judicial Conference, which in turn referred the matter to the Judicial Conference Committee on Financial Disclosure.  The letter explaining Chief Justice Roberts’ deferral, which was signed by the Secretary of the Judicial Conference, came in response to a letter Whitehouse and Johnson led on April 7 calling on the Chief Justice to launch an ethics investigation into allegations of unethical conduct by Justice Clarence Thomas.

“We hope the Chief Justice will agree to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee to discuss the Court’s ability to enforce the disclosure laws that the justices are subject to,” Whitehouse and Johnson said in a joint statement after receiving the response.

Whitehouse and Johnson are Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate and House Judiciary Courts Subcommittees respectively.  Their bicameral letter was also signed by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Tom Carper (D-DE), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Peter Welch (D-VT), Jack Reed (D-RI), and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Representatives Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Adam Schiff (D-CA), Gerald Connolly (D-VA), Deborah Ross (D-NC), Mike Quigley (D-IL), Madeleine Dean (D-PA), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Cori Bush (D-MO), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), and Steve Cohen (D-TN).

“In light of yesterday’s reporting by ProPublica that Justice Clarence Thomas has repeatedly accepted and failed to disclose gifts and travel from billionaire Harlan Crow, we write to request an investigation into these and other outstanding allegations of unethical, and potentially unlawful, conduct at the Supreme Court.  To date, the Court has barely acknowledged, much less investigated, these allegations.  Amidst all of this—perhaps due in part to the Court’s inaction—the American people’s trust in the Supreme Court has plummeted to an all-time low.  We believe that it is your duty as Chief Justice ‘to safeguard public faith in the judiciary,’ and that fulfilling that duty requires swift, thorough, independent and transparent investigation into these allegations,” wrote the members on April 7.

The members’ letter followed a bombshell ProPublica report exposing that Justice Thomas and his wife accepted extravagant vacations worth as much as $500,000 on the dime of Republican megadonor Harlan Crow and did not disclose the travel.  That reporting was later followed by an additional ProPublica story detailing Crow’s purchase of a string of properties from Justice Thomas and his family members, which was not properly disclosed.

In February, Whitehouse and Johnson reintroduced the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency (SCERT) Act, comprehensive legislation that would create a much-needed process for investigating misconduct at the Supreme Court, strengthen recusal standards for judges and disclosure rules for special interests trying to influence the courts, improve disclosure of gifts and travel for judges, and mandate the creation of a binding code of ethics.  The SCERT Act would require the Supreme Court to adopt disclosure rules for gifts, travel, and income that are at least as rigorous as ethics rules for members of Congress.  The New York Times editorial board recently endorsed the legislation.

Whitehouse has also raised concerns about Supreme Court ethics in his appearances at meetings of the Judicial Conference.  The Judicial Conference serves as the policymaking body for the federal courts.

Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921

Press Contact

Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921