People For the American Way Foundation

‘Textualist’ Clarence Thomas Ignored Clear Ethics Law; Penalties Apply, People For the American Way Calls for DOJ Action  


Contact: Press Department at People For the American Way

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Phone Number: 202-467-4999

Washington D.C. – People For the American Way has found that under federal ethics law that applies to federal officials including Supreme Court justices, Justice Clarence Thomas can not only be investigated by the Justice Department, but could face civil and criminal penalties for failing to report lavish gifts he received over a period of nearly 20 years. People For’s analysis, here, concludes that the statute that applies is 5 U.S. Code 13101, 13104, and 13106(a).  The law authorizes the Justice Department to pursue both civil penalties and criminal fines from government officials who fail to report gifts as required under federal ethics law.

People For is circulating a petition to all members and allies calling on the Justice Department to begin an immediate investigation.

“If Clarence Thomas broke the law, he should be held accountable,” said People For the American Way President Svante Myrick. “We’re calling on all our members to make their voices heard at the Justice Department and to demand an investigation. People are fed up with current and former officials behaving as if they are above the law, and we are looking to our Justice Department to use the authority it has to act in this case.”

“There’s been a lot of discussion about how the Supreme Court lacks its own code of ethics,” said People For the American Way Senior Counsel Elliot Mincberg, author of the analysis. “That’s true, and it should have one promptly. But regardless of whether there is an applicable ethics code, the justices are not free to break the law. We strongly believe that statutes on the books for all government officials not only apply in the case of Justice Thomas’s unreported gifts, but could absolutely be used to impose penalties on Thomas.”

A recent press report indicates that from 2004 until the present, Thomas accepted gifts of travel and accommodations worth many hundreds of thousands of dollars from conservative billionaire Harlan Crow. Thomas did not report these gifts, claiming they were instances of “personal hospitality” not subject to reporting requirements. People For’s analysis finds that Thomas is clearly wrong, especially with regard to free use of Crow’s private jet for Thomas’s personal travel unaccompanied by Crow.  People For and most ethics experts have found that the “personal hospitality” exception does not cover free transportation of this kind.

The analysis finds that “the statute is clear on its face that at least some of the largesse from Crow should have been reported. As someone required to comply with the law and as a strict textualist, Thomas should have paid attention to the language of the ethics law.” The analysis finds that “some enforcement action can and should be undertaken by the Justice Department with respect to Thomas.”

Read the full analysis here.  

About People For the American Way 

People For the American Way, a national progressive advocacy organization, inspires and mobilizes community and cultural leaders to advance Truth, Justice and the American Way. We convene courageous Americans, produce compelling media and organize campaigns to defend our democracy from authoritarian threats and advance America’s promise that everyone will enjoy freedom, safety and a vote that counts. Learn more: