Clarence Thomas’s travel bankrolled by wealthy friends was more extensive than previously reported and included yachting trips around the Bahamas, premium sports events and a private 737 sent to retrieve the US Supreme Court justice, according to a new ProPublica report.
(Bloomberg) — Clarence Thomas’s travel bankrolled by wealthy friends was more extensive than previously reported and included yachting trips around the Bahamas, premium sports events and a private 737 sent to retrieve the US Supreme Court justice, according to a new ProPublica report.
The news organization, which cites oil baron Paul “Tony” Novelly as a benefactor whose gifts to Thomas haven’t previously been reported, details trips to at least 38 vacation destinations funded by friends he made during his time on the court. The travel, including 26 private jet trips and eight helicopter flights, often went unreported by Thomas on his annual financial disclosure filings required of judges, the report said.
Thomas’s wealthy benefactors have also included private equity executive David Sokol and the late H. Wayne Huizenga, according to news reports.
Thomas didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment conveyed through a court spokesperson. He has said he didn’t discuss Supreme Court business with his friends and believed he didn’t have to disclose the trips.
Thomas, 75, has been under scrutiny for months after reports that he accepted such gifts from Harlan Crow, a Texas billionaire who supports conservative business causes. He didn’t disclose trips paid for by Crow or the sale of property to Crow, as some ethics experts say is required under post-Watergate rules that also apply to presidents, members of Congress and some other federal officials, ProPublica has reported.
The revelations have sparked calls from ethics watchdogs and Democrats in Congress to require Supreme Court justices to have a binding code of conduct, something that all other federal judges already have.
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Huizenga took Thomas several times to see two teams he owned at the time, the Miami Dolphins and the Florida Panthers, at one point sending his personal 737 to fly the justice to Florida, ProPublica reported. Sokol funded private flights for a vacation in Nebraska and Wyoming, and Novelly took Thomas on fishing trips to the Bahamas, according to the report.
In a statement to ProPublica, Sokol said he has been close friends with Clarence and Ginni Thomas for 21 years and acknowledged traveling with and occasionally hosting them. He defended the justice as ethical and said they had “never once discussed any pending court matter,” but instead mostly discussed “helping young people, sports, and family matters.” As for the private flights, he cited security concerns for any Supreme Court justice.
Novelly didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the report. Huizenga died in 2018.
Ethics experts told ProPublica that Thomas should have disclosed most of the trips, sports events and private flights. Though ProPublica said the three wealthy men didn’t have cases before the court, they each worked in industries influenced by Supreme Court decisions. Thomas became friends with all of them after he became a justice.
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Mark Paoletta, a lawyer and Thomas confidant who said he was on one of the trips cited in the report, said on social media after being contacted by ProPublica about the trip that the nonprofit news group is “obsessed” with Thomas because of his views on abortion and affirmative action.
Amid the heightened scrutiny, several Supreme Court justices have weighed in on whether the high court needs an official ethics code established by Congress. Justice Samuel Alito said in July that the Constitution doesn’t give Congress the authority to regulate the court. Justice Elena Kagan told an audience on Aug. 3 that she doesn’t see the court as “imperial.”
“It just can’t be that the court is the only institution that somehow is not subject to checks and balances from anybody else,” Kagan said.
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–With assistance from Greg Stohr.
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