Evidence suggests Justice Thomas flouted federal ethics law

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  • Dale Eisman

He correctly filled out federal disclosure forms for five years before he stopped, citing misunderstood instructions

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas flouted federal law by deliberately withholding information about his wife’s sources of income from a disclosure form required of all judges, Common Cause said today. The statement comes on the heels of a new request made Thursday by 20 House Democrats requesting a federal investigation into whether Thomas broke federal disclosure laws.

Records reviewed by the non-partisan government watchdog group indicate that Thomas correctly completed the Ethics in Government Act disclosure forms for five years, beginning in 1992. But the Justice suddenly stopped disclosing his wife’s employment with his filing of the 1997 form.

In January, Common Cause discovered that Thomas for seven years had checked “none” on forms seeking information about his wife’s income when she was employed by a prominent think tank. In response, he amended 21 years worth of annual disclosure forms, and blamed the mistake on a ‘misunderstanding of the filing instructions.’

“The forms are simple and straightforward. Given that we now know he correctly completed them in at least five earlier years, it’s hardly plausible – indeed it’s close to unbelievable — that Justice Thomas did not understand the instructions,” said Common Cause President Bob Edgar.

Edgar urged the U.S. Judicial Conference, an administrative agency for the federal court system, to act promptly on Thursday’s request by 20 members of Congress that it initiate a formal investigation of Justice Thomas under the Ethics in Government Act.

The lawmakers, led by Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-NY, the ranking member of the House Rules Committee, urged the Judicial Conference to refer the Thomas case to Attorney General Eric Holder. “I cannot determine guilt or innocence, but I can request that the government do our due diligence in investigating a situation that strikes me, and many other members of Congress, as suspicious,” Slaughter wrote.

Common Cause made a similar request early this year, after revealing that its review of disclosure forms by all the justices indicated that Justice Thomas had repeatedly failed to list his wife’s sources of income. Hours after Common Cause publicized the omissions, Thomas amended 21 years worth of filings – including the 1992-97 forms that already were correct. While Common Cause’s initial investigation covered seven years worth of disclosures, forms obtained since January indicate that Thomas failed to report his wife’s sources of income for a total of 13 years.