Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas might have started to feel lonely, being the only justice with his handling of a real estate deal recently under scrutiny. No longer, thanks to Politico reporting on Tuesday that fellow GOP appointee Neil Gorsuch didn't disclose who bought property he co-owned just days after his high court confirmation. The buyer in Gorsuch’s case was a lawyer whose firm has had “robust” business before the court — at least 22 cases since the deal, Politico reported.
But Gorsuch still has some catching up to do if he wants to get on Thomas' level. ProPublica’s reporting on Thomas revealed that Republican billionaire Harlan Crow bought property from Thomas — including his mother’s house, where she apparently still lives — which Thomas didn’t disclose.
ProPublica’s reporting on Thomas also includes lavish trips and private jet flights, which Thomas said he didn’t think he had to disclose because it was personal hospitality from a longtime friend — who happens to be a GOP megadonor — without business before the court. He said that before Bloomberg reported Monday that Crow actually has had business in at least one case before the court.
Gorsuch not listing the buyer in his deal just adds to the notion that the powerful justices don’t think the public deserves to know what they're up to.
And while the Gorsuch story isn't the Thomas scandal, Gorsuch not listing the buyer in his deal just adds to the notion that the powerful justices don’t think the public deserves to know what they're up to. At the very least, it shows room for improvement on the justices' financial disclosures. In light of the Gorsuch (and Thomas) news, watchdog Fix the Court said on Tuesday that judicial officers should be required to list who’s on the other end of their transactions:
The lawyer who bought the property, Brian Duffy, told Politico he's never personally argued cases before Gorsuch or met the justice. He said he cleared the sale with his firm's ethics department once he learned Gorsuch was a co-owner of the property. Gorsuch didn't respond to Politico's questions, so it's unclear what vetting, if any, the justice undertook regarding the deal and its disclosure.
Certainly, disclosure reforms are something for the Senate Judiciary Committee to explore as it purports to take on the Supreme Court’s low ethical standards. To be sure, the committee has not been as aggressive as it can be in that regard. For example, committee chair Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said on Sunday that he didn’t even invite Thomas to testify because he thought the justice would ignore the invitation. Seriously.
But whoever testifies or doesn't, this latest report shows that shoring up disclosure requirements is the least that can be done if the justices want to regain some semblance of public trust.