As alleged ethics violations surrounding Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas continue, more lawmakers and organizations are calling for his resignation.
"The Supreme Court should be the gold standard of judicial ethics, but some justices today, particularly Justice Clarence Thomas, are falling far short of that standard," read a November 1 public letter signed by groups such as the League of Conservation Voters and People for the American Way. "To begin restoring the Court’s legitimacy, the undersigned 67 organizations call for the resignation of Justice Thomas."
On Capitol Hill, Democratic Reps. Ted Lieu of California, Gerry Connolly of Virginia, and Hank Johnson of Georgia are among lawmakers saying Thomas should resign.
Among the allegations against Justice Thomas are:
* He secretly participated in fundraisers with conservative donors Charles and David Koch and refused to recuse himself from at least one case the Koch brothers brought before the Supreme Court.
* He accepted luxury travel and lavish gifts from conservtive donor and businessman Harlan Crow. Those include a trip to Indonesia aboard Crow's yacht, likely valued at more than $500,000.
* He failed to disclose that Crow paid the private school tuition of Thomas’s grandnephew, valued at upwards of $150,000. He also did not disclose that Crow purchased property from him for some $133,000.
* He neglected to report that his wife, Ginni Thomas, had been paid tens of thousands of dollars for consulting work by Leonard Leo, chairman of the board of the Federalist Society, which has brought numerous cases before the court.
Thomas said in a statement in 2023 about the trips and other gifts from Crow that he was "advised that this sort of personal hospitality from a close personal friend, who did not have business before the court, was not reportable."
He said he has since disclosed gifts, though more continue to be publicized. In late October, reporters found that a personal loan of $267,230 from businessman Anthony Welters that Thomas used to buy a motor coach had been at least partially forgiven. Thomas was among the justices who voted against students receiving loan forgiveness in a landmark 2023 case. Welters is a board member of the Carlyle Group, which has filed cases before the Supreme Court.
Thomas attorney Elliot Berke told Reuters that Thomas "made all payments to Mr. Welters on a regular basis until the terms of the agreement were satisfied in full."
Criticism against Thomas intensifies
Political analysts and mostly Democratic lawmakers have stepped up their criticism against Thomas in recent weeks.
"Thomas's votes can send someone to prison for life or financially destroy them for breaking the law," Stephen Gillers, a legal ethics expert at New York University, told Reuters. "Yet he repeatedly breaks the law, confident that he is immune to consequences."
Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said on Twitter X that he has called for his committee to subpoena Crow, Leo, and other Thomas benefactors in an ethics probe. "The highest court in the land cannot have the lowest ethical standards," Durbin said on November 2.
Republicans accused Democratic critics of Thomas of playing politics. "Democrats are trying to undermine and delegitimize the Supreme Court—just because they don’t like its rulings," Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas posted on Twitter X on November 2.
Some conservatives called for the resignation of liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who joined the court in 2009, noting that she did not recuse herself from several cases involving her book publisher, Penguin Random House.
In two copyright infringement cases involving Penguin, the Supreme Court declined to hear appeals, letting favorable decisions of lower courts prevail. Conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch, who joined the court in 2017 and has at least one book published by Penguin, also did not recuse himself in one of those cases.
"Nearly every sitting justice and several recently retired or departed justices, Republican and Democratic appointees alike," are tainted, according to watdchdog group Fix the Court. The group claims that Justice Sotomayor received a free flight and other amenities for a 2016 commencement talk at the University of Rhode Island.
Few analysts believe Thomas or other justices will resign, and politically impeaching a justice is a tough road. Supreme Court justices are much more insulated than the average politician since they are not elected by voters and are confirmed for life, analysts say. Only one has been impeached by the U.S. House, though he was acquitted by the Senate in 1805 and remained in his position.
Thomas, who has been on the court since 1991, has faced accusations of sexual harassment, as well. During his confirmation hearing, former colleague Anita Hill accused him of sexual misconduct when he was her supervisor at the U.S. Department of Education and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Hill, now a professor of social policy, law, and women's studies at Brandeis University, said Thomas asked her out several times and after she declined, he continued to discuss sexual subjects with her.
Then in 2016, Moira Smith, now an attorney for an Alaska company, accused Thomas of groping her in 1999 at a dinner in the Washington, D.C., area when she was a 24-year-old recent college graduate. Thomas denied the incident occurred.
In 2017, similar accusations caused Democratic Sen. Al Franken and Republican Rep. Trent Franks to resign.