Supreme Court Justice Faces Lawsuit for Ethic Violations and Avoiding Tax Laws

By: Lauren | Last updated: Mar 28, 2024

The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the country’s judiciary system, and consequently, its judges are assumed to be some of the most upright public servants in the system.

However, it has recently come to light that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas may be guilty of both tax evasion and questionable ethical decisions over the past several years. Now, authorities are investigating the allegations.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas

Thomas has served as a Supreme Court Justice for the last 32 years since he was nominated by then-president George H. W. Bush.

Official photograph of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas

Source: Britannica

Today, Thomas is the court’s longest-serving, oldest member, and, by all accounts, the most conservative member. While other justices have come and gone, he’s remained and truly stayed the same.


Clarence Thomas Has Been in Trouble With the Law Before

In his three-decade-long career as a Supreme Court Justice, Thomas has faced a few issues. Most often, he simply struggles to get along with his fellow justices, but in one case, he was actually charged with a crime.

The U.S. Supreme Court Justices pose for an official photo in 2010

Source: Britannica

Before he was even approved for the position, he was charged with sexual harassment by a former colleague. But much to everyone’s surprise, he was still awarded the position.

Clarence Thomas Is Under Investigation Yet Again

Now, the Supreme Court judge is once again being investigated, but instead of sexual harassment, officials are looking for tax evasions and questionable ethics practices.

Stack of $100 bills with a large red bow on top

Source: VistaCreate

It seems that Thomas has been hiding the fact he has been receiving exceptionally valuable gifts from supportive billionaires over the past few years. Some are saying these “gifts” not only should be taxed but also violate an understood code of morality that public servants are expected to follow.

What Kind of Gifts Has Clarence Thomas Received?

Thanks to a detailed investigation, it is now public knowledge that Thomas has received school tuition for his children, money for a high-end recreational vehicle, and private flights around the world.

Private jet sitting on a runway

Source: Freepik

Some reports even say that the gifts were specifically given to supplement Thomas’ minimal salary as a Supreme Court Justice, and if that is true, that money would unquestionably be taxable.

Living the High Life

Additionally, it’s been confirmed that Thomas has received several free luxury vacations from his supporters. Though, the judge claims these trips were given by friends out of the kindness of their hearts.

Man relaxes on a plastic chair on the beach under a straw umbrella

Source: Freepik

Clarence Thomas released a statement that said, “As friends do, we have joined them on several family trips during the more than quarter century we have known them.”


Thomas Never Declared Any of His “Gifts” to the IRS

One of the first and most prominent issues with this new information is that Thomas never declared his elaborate and valuable gifts to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS.)

Close-up photograph of tax return forms with a pen and a calculator

Source: iStock

Because, even if the gifts were, in fact, simple gestures of goodwill, the judge would still have had to pay taxes on them at the end of every year.


Were the Gifts Bribes?

On the other hand, it is still unclear whether the untaxed presents were just friendly offerings or if they actually were bribes.

Paperwork for a lawsuit under a judge’s gavel

Source: Freepik

Brian Galle, a law professor at Georgetown University Law Center, explained, “If there are in fact people saying more or less, ‘We’re offering these goodies to the justice so that he will stay in his role’. . . it sounds like it would be taxable income for him.”


Thomas Denies That Any of the Gifts Affected His Decisions as a Supreme Court Justice

Of course, Thomas denied that any of the gifts affected his decision to stay in office or any of his court rulings.

Close-up photograph of a judge’s gavel

Source: Freepik

Within a statement, he said none of his friends who offered him money, tuition, flights, or vacations had “business before the Court.”


The IRS Will Continue to Investigate the Allegations

As of March 2024, Clarence Thomas has not been officially charged with any crimes, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be in the future.

Sign on the exterior of the Internal Revenue Service building

Source: iStock

Unreported income is a serious crime in and of itself, so the IRS and the other government organizations looking into Thomas’ gifts will continue to investigate until they decide whether or not to charge him.


Will Clarence Thomas Go to Jail if Found Guilty?

Although the allegations are certainly serious, at this point in time, the only real threat to Thomas is that he will owe the IRS a serious sum of back taxes. In the worst-case scenario, he may be removed from office.

Man’s hands are handcuffed behind his back

Source: Freepik

However, it is highly unlikely that Thomas will ever see the world from behind bars, even if he is found guilty of accepting and hiding expensive gifts or even bribes.


Other Judges Would Absolutely Be Removed if They Were Found Guilty of the Same Crimes

While no one yet knows what will happen to Thomas, some are arguing he is already experiencing a sort of favoritism. Any other judge who was charged with the same crimes would be charged almost immediately and certainly be removed from their position.

Judge wearing their robes and holding a gavel

Source: Freepik

David Cay Johnston, a lecturer at Syracuse University’s College of Law, explained, “What Clarence Thomas has done would result in not only any judges in America being removed from the bench, but there is a good chance it would result in criminal prosecution for income tax fraud and for false filings in his mandatory financial ethics disclosure statements.”


Not the Only Justice Who Receives Benefits

While the reporting around Thomas’ gifts has seen increased attention, other justices have taken wealthy gifts in the past. What makes Thomas’ gift-taking stand out in particular is the fact that he went so long without reporting them.

Justice Clarence Thomas is seated while speaking in the Library of Congress.

Source: Earl McDonald/Wikimedia

However, justices in the past have accepted expensive trips and other benefits during their role on the bench from private sponsors, some of which have been in the court before.


Everyone Does It

Watchdog organization Open Secrets reported in 2019 that justices have taken at least 1,306 trips they were reimbursed for since 2004. 

A blanket on a beach with food, sunglasses, a camera, and a book.

Source: S Well/Unsplash

Justices from every political persuasion and leaning have taken trips paid for by other parties where they received lodging, transportation, and food expenses paid for to some degree.


Ruth Bader Ginsberg

In 2018 the now-deceased liberal Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg accepted a trip that was paid for by billionaire Morris Khan. 

A photo of justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg from 2016.

Source: Supreme Court of the United States/Wikimedia

Khan paid for Ginsberg to take a trip to Israel where she received an award from the Genesis Prize Foundation. What’s worse is that Khan had been involved with business in the court just a year prior.


Antonin Scalia

Conservative Justice Anton Scalia, who died in 2016 reportedly took at least 258 trips that were paid for during the time he was on the court. These trips were reportedly funded by private sponsors. 

A 2013 portrait of Justice Antonin Scalia.

Source: Wikimedia

Scalia was actually on one such subsidized trip when he died at Cibolo Creek Ranch resort in West Texas.


Stephen Breyer

Between 2004 and 2016, it is estimated that liberal Justice Stephen Breyer took at least 225 subsidized trips. 

An official portrait for Stephen Breyer.

Source: Steve Petteway/Wikimedia

One of these trips was to the exclusive island of Nantucket, the flight paid for by billionaire David Rubenstein. Rubenstein runs one of the world’s largest hedge funds. Breyer and Rubenstein were reportedly friends and Breyer rode on his private plane for a wedding on the island.


Neil Gorsuch

Politico reported that conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch sold a property he had been trying to sell for a while just nine days after his Supreme Court confirmation. 

Photo portrait of justice Neil Gorsuch.

Source: Franz Jantzen/Wikimedia

The property was purchased by the CEO of a law firm that was connected to several cases that had come before the Supreme Court in the past. During the disclosure, Gorsuch allegedly left a box blank that would have identified the person who gave him the money for the sale.


Supreme Court Justice Salaries

The average American may have trouble understanding why Supreme Court justices take these gifts when they are paid so well for their lifetime appointments. 

Rolls of US bills lying on a table.

Source: Pixabay/Pexels

Supreme Court Justices made $268,000 per year in 2021, with the chief justice making $280,500. The current chief justice in the United States Supreme Court is John Roberts.


Justice Disclosures are Vague

Many of the disclosures Supreme Court justices make have been criticized for being overly vague. While financial disclosures offer some insight into the investments and income sources that justices have, gifts are less clear. 

The front view of the United States Supreme Court.

Source: Claire Anderson/Unsplash

For example. the disclosures don’t include an estimated monetary value for the services justices are given.


Calls for Transparency

Gabe Roth, executive director of Fix the Court, wishes to increase the transparency of the Supreme Court to the American public.

A close-up photo of a person holding a clear glass filled with water. The focus is on the glass and the person's fingers

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“Once again, the justices took dozens of trips across the country and around the world last year in which a third party paid for their dining, airfare, and accommodations, with the public left in the dark about how lavish these trips may have been,” Roth said in 2019.


Court Has Resisted Calls for Transparency

While some are asking for greater transparency in justice financial disclosures, some justices have bristled at the suggestion in the past. In 2006 Republican Senator Chuck Grassley proposed an inspector general position to oversee the Supreme Court justices.

A person standing in a building in front of large windows looking out on a city skyline.

Source: Alex Knight/Unsplash

Liberal Justice Ginsberg at the time compared the suggestion to the USSR under Joseph Stalin. “Stalinism, saying that such oversight ‘is a really scary idea’ that ‘sounds to me very much like [how] the Soviet Union was.”


Atmosphere of Dark Money

In the backdrop of Supreme Court justices filing vague disclosures and accepting luxurious gifts is a growing awareness of hidden money in US politics. 

A briefcase filled with $100 bills.

Source: Pixabay/Pexels

Organizations like ProPublica, the New York Times, and the Lever uncovered the largest secret politician donation in American history in 2022. Reportedly, a secret $1.6 billion payment to a Republican political group went undisclosed because of American tax laws.


Americans Losing Faith in the Supreme Court

Incidents like the ones Thomas and other justices have been involved in contribute to a growing trend of Americans distrusting the highest court in the land. 

Brown Wooden Gavel on Brown Wooden Table

Source: Katrin Bolovtsova/Pexels

A 2022 Gallup poll found that confidence in the US Supreme Court fell to a historic low. In that poll, only 25% of Americans reported having confidence in the Supreme Court. Something needs to change if the court hopes to regain the trust of Americans, otherwise, some may dismiss the authority of the court altogether for important decisions in the future.