Breaking Rules, Thomas Allowed Fundraiser By Private Group Inside Supreme Court

great hall supreme court

Great Hall of the United States Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C.

ProPublica is out this morning with another big story on the billionaire lifestyle being led by Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife Gini. The investigative publication reports on 38 luxury vacations that Thomas and his wife have taken paid for by billionaires and never reported on Thomas’ financial disclosure forms. The billionaires who lavished these gifts on Thomas are all arch-conservatives who have donated to the Republican Party and conservative causes, including groups that Ginni Thomas has either worked for or been associated with.

Read the ProPublica story for yourself here.

The most shocking revelation in the ProPublica story is that Thomas has provided access to the Horatio Alger Society, of which he is a member, to the Supreme Court and guided visits by its members into the courtroom itself. The Horatio Alger Society charged $1,500 per ticket to a fundraising dinner it held in April of 2004 in the Great Hall of the Supreme Court building. Attendees could also buy a table to the dinner for $150,000.

Ordinary visitors to the Supreme Court do not pay a fee. It is a public building open to all, as are the White House and the Capitol. Other public buildings such as the Library of Congress and the National Archives are also open to the public without paying a fee.

ProPublica reports that there is what they called “explicit language” in the federal judicial code of ethics – which the Supreme Court by its own decision does not adhere to – “advising federal judges against using their position to fundraise for outside organizations.” Clarence Thomas allowing the Horatio Alger Association to hold fund raisers inside the Supreme Court building would appear to violate the judicial code of ethics, plainly and simply.

Suppose President Biden decided he would turn over the State Dining Room at the White House for a fund raiser by a private non-profit organization, the membership of which was filled with wealthy liberal businessmen like George Soros or maybe Jeff Bezos or millionaire Hollywood liberals like Jane Fonda or Robert Redford? That would be the functional equivalent of Justice Thomas allowing the Horatio Alger Society to hold a fund-raising dinner at the Supreme Court. Do you think Biden, or any other Democratic president for that matter, would get away with raising money in the White House without being the subject of whining and bellowing and complaining by Republicans and other so-called conservatives? Hell, Bill Clinton got yelled at for permitting a donor to one of his campaigns to spend the night in the Lincoln bedroom.

Thomas met at least three of the billionaires who lavished expensive gifts on him and his wife through the Horatio Alger Society, an organization which celebrates people from modest backgrounds who supposedly made something of themselves. ProPublica could find no Supreme Court cases that specifically involved the three billionaires or companies they own or have owned, but reported that cases before the court have involved more general issues that would have affected areas of the three billionaires’ businesses.

The ProPublica story is full of excuses for Justice Thomas’ failures to report gifts from his billionaire friends – the “hospitality” excuse, hairsplitting of the rules to discount jaunts on private jets from reporting requirements, and of course the fact that the Supreme Court, despite being the highest court in the land, has not agreed to make itself subject to the same ethics rules that apply to every other federal judge, from magistrates to regular district judges and judges on the circuit courts of appeals.

It has become clear that when it comes to the Supreme Court, the word “ethics” has no meaning. Nor do the words “legal” or “illegal.” The Supreme Court has put itself above the law when it comes to the financial and so-called ethical behavior of the justices on the court. They are so untouchable that they are beyond the law.

If the Congress passed a code of ethics for the court, Thomas and his enablers would just find new ways to pick their way through and around the rules as they are already doing with financial disclosure rules. And I don’t know how the Congress could put teeth into enforcement of such a code of ethics. Justice John Roberts has already come out and said that the Supreme Court is not subject to being subpoenaed by the Congress because of the doctrine of separation of powers which is written into the Constitution. So how do you make rules or laws apply to the Supreme Court, which considers that it is the final arbiter of the laws under which we all live?

Apparently, you don’t. What the Congress could do, if Republicans could bring themselves to vote for something that even a single Democrat votes for, is to pass a code of honor for the Supreme Court. The Congress could assign a committee to oversee the code of honor, and if a justice was found to be in violation of the code, the Congress could have a vote declaring the action of the justice dishonorable. It’s not much, but it would get around the Constitutional limits on policing the court, and it would brand any justice violating the code with a label no one would want next to their name.

Well, practically no one. I can think of at least one justice who would consider being declared dishonorable as a badge of honor of an entirely different sort.

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

Please consider subscribing to Lucian Truscott Newsletter, from which this is reprinted with permission.


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