WASHINGTON – A GOP megadonor purchased three Georgia properties from Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and members of his family in 2014, a transaction that Thomas failed to note on his annual disclosure forms, according to a report Thursday.
The purchase by Texas billionaire Harlan Crow, reported by ProPublica, marks the second time in as many weeks Thomas has come under scrutiny for his ties to Crow. Thomas and his wife, Ginni, have accepted luxury trips for years paid for by Crow, including international travel on his private jet and yacht, ProPublica reported last week.
The developments have heaped pressure on the Supreme Court to adopt more robust ethics requirements to avoid potential conflicts of interest. Congressional Democrats and several outside groups have called on Chief Justice John Roberts to investigate.
The Supreme Court did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
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ProPublica reported Thursday that a company owned by Crow spent $133,363 to purchase property in Savannah owned by Thomas, his mother and the family of Thomas’ late brother. The company then began work on tens of thousands of dollars of renovations on a home in which the justice’s mother was still living.
Thomas didn’t disclose the transaction, according to ProPublica, despite a federal law that requires officials to make note of real-estate sales in excess of $1,000.
The revelation comes days after ProPublica reported Thomas, a Georgia native, had accepted lavish trips paid for by Crow, including a 2019 trip to Indonesia that would have cost Thomas more than $500,000. The justice also did not disclose those trips.
What have Thomas, Crow said about the transactions?
Thomas, who was appointed to the Supreme Court by President George H.W. Bush, did not immediately respond to the latest report. Last week, in response to the initial story about his travel, Thomas said he 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,” Thomas said in a statement, “and have always sought to comply with the disclosure guidelines.”
Ethics and legal experts told USA TODAY last week that the disclosure requirements are vague when it comes to travel. While the justices are required to report gifts they have received on their annual financial disclosure reports, an exemption is allowed for hospitality from friends. But that exemption would not apply to real estate sales.
In a statement to ProPublica about the property, Crow said he purchased the house Thomas’ mother lives in to preserve it.
“My intention is to one day create a public museum at the Thomas home dedicated to telling the story of our nation’s second black Supreme Court justice,” Crow said. “I approached the Thomas family about my desire to maintain this historic site so future generations could learn about the inspiring life of one of our greatest Americans.”
Reaction to the latest revelations about Thomas’ ties to Crow
Several groups that are critical of the Supreme Court swiftly weighed in to question the propriety of the transaction and the legality of Thomas’ failure to disclose it.
“The only person who doesn’t think Clarence Thomas abused the power of his office is Clarence Thomas,” said Rakim H.D. Brooks, president of the liberal Alliance for Justice, who called for Thomas to resign. “These revelations of his corruption undermine not only any trust we might have in his ability to fairly interpret the law but also our trust in the Supreme Court’s ability to fairly administer the law.”
Pressure has been mounting on the nation’s highest court for years to adopt a code of ethics in line with what lower federal court judges must adhere to. So far, the Supreme Court has resisted formally embracing such a code.
“Americans expect and deserve a fair and impartial Supreme Court and we need transparency in order to identify potential conflicts and to restore public trust in our nation’s highest court,” Common Cause co-president Marilyn Carpinteyro said earlier this week, before the latest revelation. “The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly proven itself incapable of policing itself without a code of ethics.”
Contributing: Josh Meyer
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: GOP billionaire bought property from Justice Clarence Thomas: Report