ProPublica Thursday reported that US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas failed to disclose that conservative donor Harlan Crow’s holding company paid thousands of dollars in tuition for Thomas’s great-nephew, whom Thomas was raising “as a son.”
The nonprofit news organization obtained a bank statement showing that Crowe made a $6,200 payment, or one month’s tuition, to the boarding school Thomas’s great-nephew attended. However, a statement from Mark Paoletta, Thomas’s friend and his wife Ginni Thomas’s lawyer, said that Crow paid for two years’ worth of tuition at two separate boarding schools.
The Ethics in Government Act requires certain government employees, including Supreme Court associate justices, to report gifts to their dependent children worth more than $250 that are not “received totally independent” of the child’s relation to the employee. Paoletta argued that Thomas did not have to report Crow’s payments because the definition of “dependent child” under 5 U.S.C. 13101 (2) only includes an “individual who is a son, daughter, stepson, or stepdaughter,” not a great-nephew.
Paoletta claimed that neither Harlan Crow nor his company had business before the Supreme Court. However, Bloomberg reported in April that a real estate company Crow had a non-controlling interest in was an appellee in a case that the court refused to hear. Thomas did not recuse himself from consideration of the case.
ProPublica noted that Thomas disclosed an “education gift” to his great-nephew from Earl and Louise Dixon in his 2002 financial disclosure report.
Harlan Crowe’s office said in a statement to ProPublica that:
Harlan Crow has long been passionate about the importance of quality education and giving back to those less fortunate, especially at-risk youth. As part of his desire to perpetuate the American dream for all, and believing education is the great equalizer, he and his wife have supported many young Americans through scholarship and other programs at a variety of schools.
Other than two “no”s to questions asking whether Thomas or his wife asked Crow to pay the tuition, the statement did not directly address the tuition payments to Thomas’s great-nephew.
ProPublica is the same news organization that revealed in April that Thomas failed to disclose a number of luxury trips paid for by Crow.
This latest report has raised more questions surrounding judicial ethics at the Supreme Court. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durban (D-IL) said, “Today’s report continues a steady stream of revelations calling Justices’ ethics standards and practices into question. I hope that the Chief Justice understands that something must be done—the reputation and credibility of the Court is at stake.”
While the Supreme Court does not use the same code of conduct that lower federal courts use, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Elena Kagan claimed that Supreme Court justices still abide by the code despite the fact that it is not enforceable upon them.