Senators Demand Attorney General Initiate Criminal Investigation of Clarence Thomas

By: Georgia | Published: Jul 10, 2024

Last week, Senators Sheldon Whitehouse from Rhode Island and Ron Wyden from Oregon reached out to Attorney General Merrick Garland. 

They’re calling for a special counsel to look into Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas following several ethics scandals. This request illustrates a broader concern about maintaining ethical standards at the very pinnacle of our judiciary.

Unreported Luxuries Spark Scrutiny

Justice Thomas is under the microscope for reportedly accepting luxury vacations and expensive gifts from affluent friends, which he allegedly didn’t list on his financial disclosures. 

Official portrait of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, wearing a black robe and a red tie, with a neutral expression

Source: Wikimedia Commons

These revelations have thrown a spotlight on the transparency we expect from those at the highest levels of the judiciary.


Senators Point to Possible Legal Breaches

Senators Whitehouse and Wyden, in their letter to Garland, pointed out what they believe are violations of federal ethics and tax laws by Thomas. 

Attorney General Merrick Garland delivering a speech at a podium, with multiple state flags in the background

Source: Wikimedia Commons

They specifically referred to the Ethics in Government Act, highlighting it as a crime “to knowingly and willfully … fail to file or report” gifts and other income.

Questions Over Financial Disclosures

The senators’ letter meticulously details what they consider dubious omissions on Thomas’ financial disclosures, including trips and gifts that were not reported. 

A formal group portrait of the U.S. Supreme Court justices seated and standing in two rows in a courtroom setting

Source: Wikimedia Commons

These omissions ignite debates over the legal and ethical obligations of Supreme Court justices to maintain public trust through transparency.

Financial Connections Under Examination

The spotlight also fell on payments to a consulting firm run by Thomas’ wife from Leonard Leo, a prominent right-wing judicial activist. 

Close-up image of Leonard Leo looking concerned, wearing glasses

Source: dizzle_que/X

Moreover, they brought up concerns about a loan for a recreational vehicle, which reports suggest was not fully repaid by Thomas.

Allegations of Multiple Violations

Whitehouse and Wyden suggest that Thomas may have breached not only the Ethics in Government Act but also federal tax laws and laws against making false statements. 

Justice Clarence Thomas speaking animatedly at a public event, dressed in a dark suit and red patterned tie, sitting with his hands gesturing

Source: Wikimedia Commons

These serious allegations call for a thorough examination of his financial and ethical practices.


Next Steps Depend on AG Garland

It’s now up to Attorney General Garland to decide if a special counsel will be appointed. 

Close-up portrait of Attorney General Merrick Garland with a slight smile, wearing glasses and a suit, with an American flag blurred in the background

Source: Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

This decision is crucial as it could set a precedent for how ethical concerns at the highest levels are addressed.


Political Hurdles to Ethical Oversight

Should Garland opt not to appoint a special counsel, the senators will face significant obstacles in pursuing these ethical concerns. 

Merrick Garland smiling outdoors, wearing a blue suit and tie, with trees in soft focus in the background

Source: Wikimedia Commons

This is due in part to political opposition, particularly from Republicans, against legislation mandating a code of ethics for Supreme Court justices.


Thomas Maintains His Innocence

In his response to the allegations, Justice Thomas insisted he did nothing improper. 

Clarence Thomas in a formal white shirt and tie, looking seriously at the camera, with bookshelves and the American flag in the background

Source: usanews0/X

He explained that he saw the gifts as personal hospitality from close friends, which he believed were exempt from reporting under the guidelines provided to him.


Thomas' Benefactor Defends Their Actions

Harlan Crow, the real estate tycoon who has provided many of the gifts to Thomas, also defended his actions.

A close-up image of Harlan Crow looking concerned, with focus on his expressive eyes and furrowed brow

Source: ReallyAmerican1/X

He asserted to The Atlantic in 2023 that he would never discuss judicial matters with Thomas, countering any suggestions of impropriety.


Ethical Concerns Aren't Isolated

The ethical questions around Justice Thomas are part of a larger pattern of scrutiny facing other justices. 

Clarence Thomas engaged in a discussion during a public event, wearing a dark suit and red tie

Source: Wikimedia Commons

This ongoing issue has prompted broader discussions about whether the current ethical guidelines for the Supreme Court are sufficient.


Eroding Trust and the Push for Stronger Ethics

Recent scandals have significantly shaken public confidence in the Supreme Court, as reflected by a steep drop in poll numbers. 

The front view of the United States Supreme Court building under clear blue skies, showing the grand architecture and steps leading up to the court, with people milling around the entrance

Source: Wikimedia Commons

In response, Democratic lawmakers are ramping up their demands for a stronger and more enforceable ethics code for justices. However, there’s ongoing debate about whether the new code introduced is up to the task.