Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee called on Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. to investigate a report that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas accepted luxury trips around the globe for two decades from a prominent Republican donor without disclosing them.

The revelations were made in a report last week from nonprofit news outlet ProPublica. The article detailed an array of trips – including travel on a superyacht and private jet – Thomas took that were funded by Harlan Crow, a Dallas business executive. The publication said Thomas typically spends about a week every summer at Crow’s private resort in the Adirondacks.

Clarence Thomas

Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press

In a letter Monday to Roberts, Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, and fellow Democratic members of the panel urged the chief justice to investigate the claims made in the ProPublica report. The Democrats also announced that their committee will hold a hearing on the “need to restore confidence in the Supreme Court’s ethical standards.”

The ProPublica report prompted furious reactions from Democrats, some of whom called for Thomas – the court’s senior justice – to resign. It also fueled Democrats’ demands that the court adopt an enforceable code of conduct.

Judiciary Committee Democrats noted that in 2012 they urged Roberts to adopt a resolution that would bind justices to the same code of conduct to which all other federal judges are sworn. That request came after a 2011 report from the New York Times said that Thomas had accepted favors from Crow.

The Democrats said it is “troubling” that back then Roberts dismissed the call for justices to adopt a code of conduct. They said the dismissal has led to a “crisis of public confidence” in the Supreme Court’s ethical standards.


“If the Court does not resolve this issue on its own, the Committee will consider legislation to resolve it,” the Democrats wrote. “But you do not need to wait for Congress to act to undertake your own investigation into the reported conduct and to ensure that it cannot happen again.”

In the letter to Roberts, Senate Judiciary Democrats said their panel has the responsibility to ensure that the Supreme Court “does not have the federal judiciary’s lowest ethical standards.”

“You have a role to play as well, both in investigating how such conduct could take place at the Court under your watch, and in ensuring that such conduct does not happen again,” they wrote. “We urge you to immediately open such an investigation and take all needed action to prevent further misconduct.”

Thomas on Friday defended his actions by saying he had been advised “by colleagues and others in the judiciary” that the luxury trips gifted by Crow were considered “personal hospitality,” and thus did not have to be disclosed.

In the statement issued through the court’s public information office, Thomas said Crow and his wife, Kathy, were among the “dearest friends” of the justice and his wife, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas.

“As friends do, we have joined them on a number of family trips during the more than quarter century we have known them,” Thomas said in the statement. “Early in my tenure at the Court, I sought guidance from my colleagues and others in the judiciary, and was advised that this sort of personal hospitality from close friends, who did not have business before the Court, was not reportable.”


Federal law mandates that top officials from the three branches of government, including the Supreme Court, file annual forms detailing their finances, outside income and spouses’ sources of income, with each branch determining its own reporting standards.

Judges are prohibited from accepting gifts from anyone with business before the court. Until recently, however, the judicial branch had not clearly defined an exemption for gifts considered “personal hospitality.”

Thomas noted that just last month, a committee of the Judicial Conference, the courts’ policymaking body, revised those rules to be more specific.

“And, it is, of course, my intent to follow this guidance in the future,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Supreme Court did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Democrats’ letter to Roberts.


The Washington Post’s Robert Barnes, John Wagner, Ann E. Marimow and Amy B Wang contributed to this report.

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