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Justice Clarence Thomas asks for and receives months more time to file financial disclosures required by law, as Congress turns up heat on billionaire friend

Clarence Thomas.

Clarence Thomas (Library of Congress/YouTube)

If you were waiting to see if Justice Clarence Thomas’ 2022 financial disclosure forms would shed more light on his longstanding relationship with billionaire Harlan Crow, you’ll have to keep waiting for up to three more months.

The news dropped Wednesday that both Justice Thomas and Justice Samuel Alito (in keeping with his past practice) asked for and received a 90-day extension to submit financial disclosures required by law. In recent months, Thomas has come under intense criticism for making no mention of various Crow-sponsored luxury yacht trips, a real estate transaction involving the home where the justice’s mother lived, and paid private school tuition for Thomas’ grandnephew, whom the justice raised “as a son.”

While the extension could be viewed as a way for Justice Thomas to ensure that his financial disclosures are as complete as they can and should be, others may see it as a possible delay tactic — at a time when the Supreme Court is ready to rule on major cases and the Senate Judiciary Committee is trying to turn up the heat. CNN’s Supreme Court reporter Ariane de Vogue put it this way:

The move means that any official information about Thomas’ relationship with the donor, Texas real estate magnate Harlan Crow, may not be released until after the end of the current Supreme Court term, and major rulings come down on election law, religious liberty, affirmative action and student loans, among other issues.

In a May 22 letter responding to the committee, an attorney for Crow resisted scrutiny of his client’s friendship with Thomas, asserting a congressional attempt to legislate ethical rules and standards at the Supreme Court would constitute an illegal encroachment on the separation of powers.

“While the concerns we expressed in our Response about the Committee’s investigation remain, we respect the Senate Judiciary Committee’s important role in formulating legislation concerning our federal courts system, and would welcome a discussion with your staff,” Gibson Dunn & Crutcher lawyer Michael D. Bopp wrote in a follow-up letter to the committee on June 5. “In our Response, we explained why we believe the Committee lacks authority to conduct its investigation of Mr. Crow and Justice Thomas. To reiterate, Congress does not have the power to impose ethics standards on the Supreme Court. It therefore cannot mount an investigation for the purpose of helping craft such standards.”

More Law&Crime coverage: Justice Thomas accused of breaking the law by going on secret ‘superyacht’ trips with billionaire pal  

“The Committee also may not pursue an investigation for the purpose of targeting and exposing private facts about an individual. Finally, because the Committee has requested information about the leadership of a coequal branch of government—implicating sensitive separation of powers considerations—it must satisfy a higher standard in order to establish a valid legislative purpose for seeking the requested information,” Bopp reasserted. “On this point, too, the Committee’s investigation comes up short.”

The conservative associate justice previously said that he was “advised” that he didn’t have to report the luxury yacht trips due to a personal hospitality exemption.

“Early in my tenure at the Court, I sought guidance from my colleagues and others in the judiciary and was advised that this sort of personal hospitality from close personal friends, who did not have business before the Court, was not reportable,” Thomas said. “I have endeavored to follow that counsel throughout my tenure and have always sought to comply with the disclosure guidelines.”

Notably, the Supreme Court’s newest member, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, reported gifts from Oprah Winfrey and Condé Nast.

Oprah’s “congratulatory floral arrangement” for Justice Jackson was valued at $1,200 and a Vogue Magazine-supplied photoshoot “designer dress and jacket” was valued at $6,580.

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson disclosure form

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson disclosure form

Jackson also reported a $580 painting.

The rest of the justices not named Thomas or Alito checked off the box that saidno reportable gifts” (see here for past disclosure forms).

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.