US Supreme Court’s Clarence Thomas details trips paid for by billionaire

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Clarence Thomas, the conservative US Supreme Court justice, has disclosed that billionaire Harlan Crow paid for three trips to New York and Texas last year, after coming under fire for accepting gifts from the Republican donor.

In a form released on Thursday, Thomas reported that Crow, a personal friend, paid for two trips he took to Texas last year to attend a conference organised by the American Enterprise Institute, a think-tank, as well as one trip to upstate New York, where the billionaire donor has a lakeside home.

According to the disclosure form, Thomas took one of the trips — to Texas in May 2022 — using private means because of security fears after the leak of a draft opinion in the landmark case Dobbs vs Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned the constitutional right to an abortion in the US.

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“Because of the increased security risk following the Dobbs opinion leak, the May flights were by private plane for official travel as filer’s security detail recommended non-commercial travel whenever possible,” the form said.

The disclosures came after revelations about the links between Crow and Thomas plunged the US’s highest court into an ethical crisis and sparked calls for reform, following a series of reports by ProPublica, the investigative journalism site. Critics said gifts accepted by justices from wealthy or influential benefactors could sway their decision-making.

Earlier this year, the office overseeing the federal judiciary clarified that certain gifts of “personal hospitality” should be reported in annual financial disclosures required from US judges.

Both Thomas and Samuel Alito, his fellow conservative justice who authored the Dobbs opinion last year, had delayed releasing their financial disclosure forms in light of the new guidance. When it was filed, Alito’s form revealed Duke Law School had paid for his lodging and meals in North Carolina in May of last year, and Notre Dame Law School had paid for him to travel to Rome, Italy for an event on religious liberty.

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Thomas has denied any wrongdoing in connection with the trips. “For anyone who knows him at all, it is clear that no one influences Justice Clarence Thomas’s jurisprudence. But friends are dear, close, and separate,” Elliot Berke, an attorney for Thomas, said in a statement. “I am confident there has been no wilful ethics transgression and any prior reporting errors were strictly inadvertent.”

In his form, Thomas also disclosed Crow had bought properties in Savannah, Georgia, owned by the justice’s family, but said there was no financial benefit from those real estate deals. “There was no profit or net income for Justice Thomas on the transaction,” Berke said.