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Brett Wilkins

Roberts urged to probe Thomas trips

As congressional Democrats scoffed at U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas' attempt to defend taking luxury vacations funded by a billionaire Republican mega-donor, a group of 16 Democratic lawmakers on Friday urged Chief Justice John Roberts to investigate "allegations of unethical and potentially unlawful conduct" by a member of the nation's highest court.

In a letter led by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Rep. Hank Johnson Jr., D-Ga., the Democrats—who include eight members of the Senate and eight House lawmakers—cited Thursday's bombshell report by ProPublica detailing how "Thomas has repeatedly accepted and failed to disclose gifts and travel from billionaire Harlan Crow."

"To date, the court has barely acknowledged, much less investigated, these allegations," the lawmakers wrote. "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," the legislators added.

The letter notes that "gifts that Mr. Crow reportedly provided to Justice Thomas include international travel on private jets and yachts, and stays at private resorts, including annual retreats to a resort owned by Mr. Crow's company. The value of some of these gifts exceeds $500,000, according to ProPublica's reporting."

The lawmakers continued:

Just last year, a right-wing activist admitted to coordinating a previously undisclosed 20-year, $30 million judicial lobbying campaign at the Supreme Court. As part of this operation, this activist reportedly "coached" wealthy donors "to wine, dine, and entertain conservative Supreme Court justices" in an attempt to "embolden the justices" to write "unapologetically conservative" opinions. These donors apparently "financed numerous expensive dinners with [Justices] Thomas, [Samuel] Alito, [Antonin] Scalia, and their wives at Washington, D.C. hotspots" and hosted at least one justice at a private retreat. According to the activist who led this campaign, the donors involved in this lobbying effort were even able to secure advance notice from Justice Alito of the Supreme Court's 2014 decision in a pending case.

"Over the course of the past year, Justice Thomas has participated in numerous cases implicating his wife's activities related to the 2020 election and the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol," the letter continues, referencing Virginia Thomas' attempt to push Arizona state lawmakers to help then-President Donald Trump overturn the results of the last presidential contest.

"Justice Thomas' failure to recuse in these cases raises questions about whether he violated both federal law and canons of judicial ethics regarding conflicts of interest and recusal," the lawmakers argued. "It has been said that he knew nothing of his spouse's activities; that is an assertion of fact that can and should be investigated, and would be in the ordinary course for other judges and officials."

"It is well past time for the Supreme Court to align with the rest of government in a proper code of ethics enforced by independent investigation and reporting," they added.

In addition to the letter, there have been calls by progressive groups and congressional Democrats including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., to impeach Thomas.

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