Citing new evidence, Common Cause and Alliance for Justice urge formal investigation of Justice Thomas’ disclosure failures

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  • Dale Eisman

Emerging details about gaps in annual financial disclosure reports filed by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas suggest that the justice deliberately withheld information required by federal ethics laws, Common Cause said today.

“There is now more than enough evidence to merit a formal inquiry as to whether Justice Thomas willfully failed to make legally required disclosures, perhaps for as long as 13 years,” said Bob Edgar, president of the non-profit government watchdog group.

As a result, Common Cause joined with Alliance for Justice on Wednesday, in a letter asking the U.S. Judicial Conference to refer the matter to the Attorney General for possible action under the Ethics in Government Act.

Common Cause discovered in January that Justice Thomas had failed for at least five years to report the sources of income earned by his wife, lobbyist and political activist Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, on annual disclosure forms all judges must file under the Ethics Act.

Justice Thomas quickly filed amended reports for 21 years, explaining that he had omitted listing his wife’s employers because of a misunderstanding of the instructions on the disclosure forms.

But newly found copies of old disclosure forms indicate that Justice Thomas had properly completed them for at least seven years before he began checking “NONE” on the section seeking details about his wife’s employment. Those copies also indicate that Justice Thomas failed to make proper disclosures for a total of 13 years.

Other records, filed by Mrs. Thomas’ employers, indicate she was paid at least $1.6 million during the years her husband reported she had no income.

“Given that we now know he correctly completed the reports in prior years, it’s hardly plausible – indeed it’s close to unbelievable – that Justice Thomas did not understand the instructions,” Edgar asserted.

The Ethics Act requires the Judicial Conference, an administrative agency for the federal courts, to refer to the Attorney General any judge or justice whom it has “reasonable cause” to believe willfully failed to make required disclosures.

Common Cause first asked the Judicial Conference in February to review Justice Thomas’ disclosures but did not receive a reply. Common Cause and the Alliance for Justice sent a second letter in September, and the Judicial Conference replied on Sept. 26, saying that it was referring the matter to its Committee on Financial Disclosure

“This new evidence makes the case for a formal investigation compelling. We believe the Judicial Conference will act,” Edgar said.

“We’re also pleased to see that members of Congress are taking an interest in this issue. The letter sent today by House members to the House Judiciary Committee, asking it to hold hearings on ethical questions surrounding the Supreme Court, is a constructive step. And today’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the role of our courts under the Constitution offers still another opportunity for lawmakers to take a broader look at ethics issues surrounding the high court.”