Justices Thomas and Alito file 2022 financial disclosure forms with new trips, gifts
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Yesterday, two conservative Supreme Court justices officially disclosed for the first time that they received valuable benefits that they had not previously made public. Both Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito have been under fire for months following reports from ProPublica and other outlets about these previously undisclosed gifts, trips and honoraria. So now that they've made the disclosure, what next? Virginia Canter is here to talk about that. She's chief ethics counsel for the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. That's a nonpartisan government watchdog group with a particular focus on conflicts of interest. Good morning. Thanks for joining us.
VIRGINIA CANTER: Thank you.
MARTIN: So now we have these disclosure reports. Both justices say they never intended to violate the disclosure rules that apply to the high court, which we are finding out are fairly thin. Justice Thomas in particular says he plans to follow the rules more closely in the future. You had a long career as an ethics official at federal agencies and the White House. Should the public be satisfied with that?
CANTER: I think not. The bottom line shows that - these disclosures show that Justice Thomas' lifestyle is still being subsidized by billionaires like Harlan Crow. And neither he nor Justice Alito have made a full accounting of their acceptance of luxurious vacations and travel that they took in the prior years.
MARTIN: And, you know, some groups, including Fix the Court, are saying that Justice Thomas in particular, needs to go back and amend old disclosures. Do you agree with that?
CANTER: Oh, absolutely. You know, all other, you know, filers who are subject to the Ethics in Government Act have to ensure that they're in compliance. And, in fact, the Department of Justice has actually prosecuted individuals for not disclosing plane trips on their financial disclosure reports. And Justice Thomas, you know, took, you know, yacht trips to the Bahamas, Greek islands, Indonesia. ProPublica has documented at least 26 private jets flights, as well as helicopter flights and VIP passes to sporting events.
MARTIN: You know, there's some new information in Justice Thomas' report. He acknowledged personal bank accounts with hundreds of thousands of dollars, a life insurance policy in his wife's name. Do those strike you as significant omissions?
CANTER: Well, it's puzzling and surprising because, like, that's something that almost - I mean, that's just, like, the most basic type of disclosure. So it's certainly, you know, the bank accounts - it's extremely puzzling why that wouldn't have been reported, I think, you know, for the past five years. So, I mean, the bottom line is they will be in noncompliance. Their reports are now in noncompliance for past years until these reports are amended.
MARTIN: So I just want to mention that in March, the Judicial Conference, which sets policies for the federal judiciary, tightened the rules on disclosing certain types of gifts. For one, federal judges and Supreme Court justices are now supposed to disclose private jet trips. It also seems unlikely that Congress is going to pass new ethics rules for the court. Republicans vehemently oppose this. So in the absence of legislation, what do you think should happen, as briefly as you can?
CANTER: Well, I mean, it's really - at this point, the Supreme Court has to step up and adopt a code of conduct. They need to adopt an ethical framework so that these types of matters can be, you know, fully addressed and so that it will restore public confidence in the integrity of the court. Right now, it looks pretty lawless. And it's extremely disturbing to the American public that those who are required to administer the law have failed to adhere to it.
MARTIN: Do you think that this is a partisan issue? Do you think Republicans at some level share that concern?
CANTER: No, absolutely not. He needs to address, you know, loans he received about an RV, tuition paid by Harlan Crow. These are fundamental issues and never partisan.
MARTIN: Virginia Center is with Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Virginia Canter, thanks so much for speaking with me.
CANTER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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