Calls for conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to be impeached erupted again on Thursday after a bombshell report from ProPublica unveiled ethics violations at a level that experts say has never before been seen within the Supreme Court.
According to an explosive investigation published by ProPublica Thursday morning, Clarence Thomas has accepted a huge number of lavish vacations from Republican megadonor Harlan Crow — including a private jet to an island-hopping superyacht vacation in Indonesia complete with a private chef, with an estimated worth of over $500,000; and a stay in a billionaire-favored locale in the Adirondacks at Crow’s invitation-only, all-expenses-paid resort, where a painting depicts Thomas smoking cigars with far right court manipulator Leonard Leo. These trips weren’t disclosed by the justice, despite reporting requirements.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) expressed outrage over the revelations on Thursday and renewed her call for Thomas to be removed from the court.
“This is beyond party or partisanship. This degree of corruption is shocking — almost cartoonish. Thomas must be impeached,” she said. “Barring some dramatic change, this is what the [Chief Justice John] Roberts court will be known for: rank corruption, erosion of democracy, and the stripping of human rights.”
Progressive and Democratic groups and commentators also joined the call. “If the information in this report is correct — and there is no reason at all to believe that it isn’t — and if the point of the United States judiciary is still to neutrally interpret and uphold the law, then it is obvious what should happen next. The House of Representatives must immediately draw articles of impeachment against Justice Clarence Thomas,” said Revolving Door Project Executive Director Jeff Hauser in a statement. Rural organizing group No Dem Left Behind has been circulating a petition calling for Thomas to be impeached in response to the revelations.
Philadelphia Inquirer opinion columnist Will Bunch said that forcing an impeachment vote is critical, even if it wouldn’t pass. “Democrats should force an impeachment vote of Justice Thomas on the House floor,” Bunch said. “It won’t pass, obviously, but put Republicans on the record supporting this level of corruption, and make the corrupt judiciary a campaign issue.”
Similarly to presidents, Supreme Court justices can be impeached by the U.S. House with a simple majority vote, and then removed after a trial and conviction by a two-thirds majority of the Senate. Only one Supreme Court justice has ever been impeached: Samuel Chase in 1805, for speaking out against then-President Thomas Jefferson. Chase was acquitted by the Senate.
Many commentators have also called for Thomas to be investigated. “This cries out for the kind of independent investigation that the Supreme Court — and only the Supreme Court, across the entire government — refuses to perform,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island).
“It’s not just the undisclosed gifts of hospitality, it’s the undisclosed company of political operatives — particularly Leonard Leo, the operative who helped the billionaires capture the Court,” Whitehouse said. “All of this needs robust investigation, and it’s the Chief Justice’s job to make sure that occurs.”
Demand Justice Executive Director Brian Fallon said in a statement that the Senate “cannot let this extraordinary display of corruption and lawbreaking go unanswered,” per Common Dreams.
“Senate Democrats cannot force Thomas to resign or give him the impeachment trial he clearly deserves, but they can hold hearings to further expose Justice Thomas’ apparent lawbreaking and the Republican justices’ deep ties to far-right donors,” Fallon said.
Thomas also faced calls to be removed from the High Court after it was revealed last year that his wife, conservative activist Ginni Thomas, had ties to Donald Trump’s plot to enact a coup to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Ocasio-Cortez called for Thomas to resign then, citing his failure to recuse himself from matters involving his wife and his failure to disclose income from right-wing organizations.
As some commentators pointed out, Thursday’s report reveals details potentially also related to Thomas’s failure to recuse himself from a 2016 case related to whether high level government officials can accept gifts, known as McDonnell v. United States, in which the then-governor of Virginia accepted high-value gifts from a Republican megadonor. The Court, including Thomas, unanimously vacated the governor’s counts of corruption, and commentators noted at the time that the decision carved out a legal precedent to make it “almost impossible to convict any but the most bumbling politicians” of corruption and bribery, as the New Yorker wrote.
The ProPublica investigation will almost certainly spark far more calls for Thomas to resign, as the revelations, if true, speak to a concerning level of corruption in the Supreme Court in a time when the Court is working to erode civil rights at a rapid pace.
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