Shadow of corruption hangs over Clarence Thomas, the most conservative judge on the US Supreme Court

For more than 20 years, the judge did not declare luxury trips that he received from a powerful Republican donor

María Antonia Sánchez-Vallejo
Justice Clarence Thomas poses for the official Supreme Court portrait in October in Washington.
Justice Clarence Thomas poses for the official Supreme Court portrait in October in Washington.OLIVIER DOULIERY (AFP)

Clarence Thomas – the most conservative justice on the Supreme Court of the United States – finds himself in the eye of the hurricane for failing to declare or account for the luxury gifts he has been receiving for years from a major Republican donor.

Thomas – the author of some of the most conservative rulings from the high court, who opposes abortion and gay rights – defended himself this past Friday. He downplayed extended stays at luxury hotels, cruises and private plane rides that he and his wife – Victoria Ginni Thomas – have enjoyed for more than 20 years, thanks to the generosity of their billionaire “friend” Harlan Crow.

Crow is a real estate magnate, who is also a well-known Republican donor. The scandal was revealed this past Thursday by the investigative outlet ProPublica.

“Harlan and Kathy Crow are among our dearest friends,” Thomas, 74, justified in a statement released by the Supreme Court. “As friends often do, we (Thomas and his wife) have accompanied them on a number of family trips.”

The oldest member of the most conservative Supreme Court in the history of the United States – thanks to the three lifetime appointments made by Donald Trump – has also assured the media that he was unaware of the rules regarding the public declaration of these types of gifts. This excuse comes despite the existence of an anti-corruption law – adopted in the 1970s after the Watergate scandal – which requires transparency from all government officials.

“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,” Thomas explains in the statement, which was shared by ProPublica. He also stresses that he has “strived” to respect the rules since his appointment to the Supreme Court.

However, the judge implicitly acknowledges that it is his intention – after the internal regulations of the judiciary were modified last month – to “follow [the new guidelines] in the future.” The US Judicial Conference – the governing body for judges – adopted these tougher rules in March, requiring justices to disclose private plane travel and stays at places such as resorts.

According to ProPublica, Thomas enjoyed voyages around the world on Crow’s luxury yacht, trips on his private plane and stays at an exclusive men-only resort in California. He also travels regularly to the tycoon’s ranch in East Texas and spends a week every summer at a private compound that Crow owns in the Adirondack Mountains, in northeast New York State.

Other conflicts of interests

This is not the first time that Clarence Thomas has been involved in a controversy. His wife, Ginni – a lobbyist and ultra-conservative activist – was once involved in Donald Trump’s campaign to denounce the alleged electoral fraud of 2020. After text messages and emails that Ginni Thomas sent out to support Trump’s cause were revealed, Democrats denounced an alleged conflict of interest and asked the judge to recuse himself from any electoral litigation.

Thomas, 74, was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1991 by Republican President George H. W. Bush. His nomination was confirmed by the Senate, despite accusations of sexual harassment by Anita Hill, a former assistant. The judge denied the allegations, calling them a “high-tech lynching.” He is also a recovering alcoholic.

The revelation of in-kind payments that Thomas received from Crow has fueled calls for immediate resignation by some elected Democrats. Despite the slowdown in public life for spring break – which coincides with Easter weekend – and all of the public attention that the Trump case is receiving, the controversy surrounding Thomas is growing by the minute and threatens to snowball for Republicans. It could add fuel to the already-fierce political polarization in the United States.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition

More information

Archived In

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS