How Clarence Thomas Has Been Able to Walk a Fine Line When It Comes to Ethics

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A new investigation reveals that Clarence Thomas attended at least two events hosted by the nation’s most wealthy, which has prompted questions about how the Supreme Court Justice ethics standards have never raised any alarms.

According to a ProPublica investigation published on Friday, Thomas was present at Koch network events on two separate occasions over the past few years. During one summit, the report said he had access to esteemed donors, even having an intimate dinner with them.

“Offering a high-level donor the experience of meeting with someone like that — that’s huge,” an ex-Koch network fundraising employee told ProPublica.

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Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas speaks at the Heritage Foundation on Oct. 21, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Thomas has had a lengthy relationship with billionaire brothers Charles and the now-deceased David Koch, who founded the organization that has great influence on politics and has been involved in cases heard in the Supreme Court, according to ProPublica. The connection grew stronger as they frequently attended the hush-hush all-male Bohemian Grove retreat in California throughout the years.

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The network employees told ProPublica that Thomas spoke at an event because his presence encourages donors to give more. In a statement to the publication, a network spokesperson said Thomas “wasn’t present for fundraising conversations.”

“All of the sitting Justices and many who came before them have contributed to the national dialogue in speeches, book tours, and social gatherings,” Koch network told ProPublica. “Our events are no different. To claim otherwise is false.”

Read the full story at Atlanta Black Star.

The code of conduct for United States federal judges bars the officials from participating in political fundraising activity. However, according to ProPublica and the AP, the conduct guidelines are for lower federal court judges and not applicable to the Supreme Court. For the upper echelon, the lines are more blurred, and they are expected to make appropriate choices at their own discretion, per the reports.

“The Court routinely asks event organizers to confirm that an event at which a Justice will speak is not a fundraiser, and it provides a definition of ‘fundraiser’ in order to avoid misunderstandings,” the Supreme Court previously told the AP in a statement this summer. “The Court then follows up with event organizers to elicit further information as appropriate.”

According to the report, fundraisers are considered events where organizers ask attendees for donations or those that raise funds that exceed their costs. Justices have turned down appearances at events “following additional inquiry by the Court that confirmed them to be fundraisers,” the statement from the Supreme Court says.

Other ProPublica investigations have exposed Thomas’ relationship with billionaires who have showered him with gifts, opulent vacations, and dozens of private jet rides. Following those reports, there have been demands for his resignation and hefty criticism about his ethics. A number of Democrats have publicly scrutinized Thomas, including New Jersey Rep. Bill Pascrell. Last week, Pascrell called on the IRS to probe into these controversial revelations.

In response to the investigation, Rep. Ted Lieu said that Thomas “continues to bring shame upon himself and the United States Supreme Court.”

On the other hand, he has recently been backed by more than 100 of his former Supreme Court clerks blasting the media for making “political headlines taking aim at his character, his judicial philosophy, his marriage, even his race,” according to Fox News. 

“Lately, the stories have questioned his integrity and his ethics for the friends he keeps. They bury the lede. These friends are not parties before him as a Justice of the Court. And these stories are malicious, perpetuating the ugly assumption that the Justice cannot think for himself,” the letter obtained by the outlet in August said. “They are part of a larger attack on the Court and its legitimacy as an institution. The picture they paint of the Court and the man for whom we worked bears no resemblance to reality.”