WASHINGTON, DC – New reporting from ProPublica this morning revealed Justice Clarence Thomas’s secret participation in Koch network events on multiple occasions, revealing yet another serious conflict of interest facilitated by cozy relationships between billionaire influencers and Supreme Court justices.
It’s clear that Justice Thomas sees his position on our nation’s highest court as a way to upgrade his own lifestyle with no regard for ethics or consequences. It was his own decades-long improper financial relationship with Harlan Crow that sparked the Supreme Court corruption crisis in the first place — and that was just the tip of the iceberg,” said Accountable.US senior advisor Kyle Herrig.
“As ethics violations by Thomas and others keep piling up, Chief Justice Roberts’ lack of action becomes more egregious. The Chief Justice must demand Justice Thomas recuse himself from upcoming cases with Koch network conflicts of interest. We need accountability and reform now,” continued Herrig.
According to ProPublica, Justice Thomas attended private Koch fundraising retreats for years and neglected to disclose these trips in an apparent violation of federal law requiring justices to report most gifts. Thomas’s participation served as a fundraising draw for a network that has brought cases directly before the Supreme Court, including a critical upcoming case challenging the longstanding Chevron doctrine. Thomas used to support the precedent but flipped his position in recent years.
Other potential conflicts of interest include the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity’s support for the lawsuit the Supreme Court will hear on October 3rd brought by predatory lenders that seeks to defang and defund the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — gutting consumer protections to the benefit of the financial industry, including interests held by Koch Industries.
Justice Thomas’s appearances at the events were arranged with the help of conservative kingpin Leonard Leo, who has been found at the center of other Supreme Court corruption scandals. According to a former senior network employee interviewed for the ProPublica story, “Leonard was the conduit who would get [Justice Thomas].” During one event, Thomas participated in a talk with Leo in an interview format, according to the employee.
“I can’t imagine — it takes my breath away, frankly — that he would go to a Koch network event for donors,” said John E. Jones III, a retired federal judge appointed by President George W. Bush. Jones said that if he had gone to a Koch summit as a district court judge, “I’d have gotten a letter that would’ve commenced a disciplinary proceeding…What you’re seeing is a slow creep toward unethical behavior. Do it if you can get away with it.”
“Parties litigating in the court before Justice Thomas don’t know the extent of Thomas’ relationship with the parties on the other side,” said James Sample, a Hofstra University law professor who studies judicial ethics. “You have to be pretty cynical to not think that’s a problem.”
“What we’re seeing emerge is someone who is living his professional life in a way that’s seeing these extrajudicial opportunities as a perk of the office,” said Charles Geyh, a judicial ethics expert at Indiana University law school. Judges can have social lives, he said, and there are no clear lines for when a social gathering could pose a problem. But the confluence of powerful political actors and undisclosed gifts puts Thomas’ trips far outside the norm for judges’ conduct, Geyh said: “There’s a culture of impartiality that’s really at risk here.”