US Justice Clarence Thomas discloses trips on GOP donor’s private jet

Disclosure of three trips last year comes as top US court faces heightened scrutiny over connections to wealthy donors.

Clarence Thomas delivers remarks
US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has faced scrutiny after a series of reports revealed he has received undisclosed expensive gifts for years [File: John Amis/AP Photo]

United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has acknowledged that he took three trips last year on board a private plane owned by Republican megadonor Harlan Crow.

It is the first time in years that Thomas has reported receiving hospitality from Crow.

In a report made public on Thursday, the 75-year-old justice said he was complying with new guidelines from the federal judiciary for reporting travel.

The filing came amid a heightened focus on ethics at the high court that stems from a series of reports revealing that Thomas has for years received undisclosed expensive gifts, including international travel, from Crow, a wealthy businessman and benefactor of conservative causes.

Crow also bought the house in Georgia where Thomas’s mother continues to live and paid for two years of private school tuition for a child raised by Thomas and his wife, Ginni.

The Associated Press news agency also reported in July that Justice Sonia Sotomayor, aided by her staff, has advanced sales of her books through college visits over the past decade.

One trip Thomas reported was to Crow’s lodge in the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York, where the investigative news site ProPublica has reported that Thomas visits every year.

The other two trips were to Dallas, where he spoke at conferences sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.

Thomas noted that court officials recommended that he avoid commercial travel for one of the trips, in mid-May, because of concerns about the justices’ security following the leak of the court’s draft abortion opinion that overturned Roe v Wade.

The justice also belatedly acknowledged that Crow had bought the home in Savannah, Georgia, where Thomas’ mother still lives. Thomas and other family members owned the house, along with two neighbouring properties.

The sale was completed in 2014, but Thomas said he erroneously thought he did not have to report it because “this sale resulted in a capital loss”.

In reporting that he and his wife have assets worth $1.2m to $2.7m, Thomas also corrected several other mistakes from earlier reports.

These include the omission of accounts at a credit union that last year were worth $100,000 to $250,000 and a life insurance policy in his wife’s name that was valued at less than $100,000.

Thomas is considering whether to amend prior reports to include more private plane travel, he noted.

The annual financial reports for Thomas and Justice Samuel Alito were released on Thursday, nearly three months after those of the other seven justices. Thomas and Alito were granted 90-day extensions.

Alito reported assets worth $2.8m to $7.4m. While most of his holdings are in mutual funds, Alito retains shares of stocks in energy and other companies that sometimes force his withdrawal from Supreme Court cases.

Source: The Associated Press