Rep. Hank Johnson: ‘If I had done what Clarence Thomas has done, I would no longer be a judge’

“People are concerned about Clarence Thomas’ independence, as well as his impartiality,” Congressman Johnson told theGrio.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is coming under fire yet again, this time for allegedly crossing ethical lines by secretly attending a Koch Network fundraiser.

U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., told theGrio, “It’s deeply disturbing that we have a sitting Supreme Court justice who has been a confidant and collaborator with the biggest political network that I know of.”

Associate Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (above) is acknowledging that he took three trips last year aboard a private plane owned by Republican megadonor Harlan Crow. It’s the first time in years that Thomas has reported receiving hospitality from Crow. (Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP, File)

The House Judiciary Committee member added, “It goes against the tenets of being a judge. I’ve been a judge myself. If I had done what Clarence Thomas has done, I would no longer be a judge. I would have been held accountable.”

Donald Sherman, senior vice president for Citizens For Responsibility and Ethics, told theGrio, “At this point, it’s hard to be surprised.”

“The Supreme Court hasn’t changed its ethical rules, Congress hasn’t mandated that the court establish a binding code of conduct for the justices, and Clarence Thomas has not had to face any accountability,” he said. 

“The stories about Justice Thomas continue to paint the court in a negative light and undermine public trust in the institution,” he continued. 

Last week, ProPublica published another scathing report divulging that for years, Thomas has had close ties with the Koch network, which is composed of the largest and most influential political organizations and founded by libertarian billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.

According to the report, the Supreme Court justice spoke at a 2018 summit in Palm Springs, California, and was used to attract donors. The organizers reportedly wanted to encourage the idea that if donors gave money to the Koch Network, they would also be buying access to the highest court in the land. Not to mention, the Koch organization had several cases heard before the Supreme Court.

ProPublica cited a case where justices heard oral arguments in a lawsuit where the plaintiff, a political group a part of the Koch Network, argued that nonprofit organizations should be able to conceal the identities of their donors. In this instance, Thomas joined the conservative majority vote, where five other justices ruled in favor of the plaintiff. 

As it relates to Thomas’ visit to Palm Springs, the 75-year-old justice reportedly failed to report the 2018 trip on his annual financial disclosure form, just as he failed to do so when he received lavish gifts from Harlan Crow, a wealthy Republican donor, over the course of several years. 

Johnson told theGrio that Thomas’ failure to disclose this mostly recently disclosed trip “shows that [Thomas] knew what he was doing was wrong.” 

“He made a conscious decision to withhold the disclosure…from the American people. He did it because he needed secrecy in order to get away with it for as long as he has,” he said.

Congressman Hank Johnson, D-GA, delivers remarks at a press conference on Wednesday, April 19, 2023 to demand Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas resign. Credit: Ashlee Banks

Johnson continued, “People are concerned about Clarence Thomas’ independence, as well as his impartiality. How can you be independent of a group that you’ve participated in the political activities of for decades and you’ve raised money for, for decades?” 

But Thomas is not the only justice whose ethics have been questioned.

In recent months, it was also revealed that Chief Justice John Roberts’ wife raked in millions of dollars for ensuring lawyers had their cases heard before the Supreme Court. Justice Samuel Alito took a luxury fishing trip with a GOP billionaire who had cases heard before the court. 

Additionally, shortly after Justice Neil Gorsuch was confirmed to serve on the bench, a law firm that took over property that he kept a share in also had cases heard before the court.

For months, congressional members and activists have called on the Supreme Court to adopt a code of conduct to restore balance and credibility.

Last week, Rep. Johnson held a press conference in front of the Supreme Court to re-introduce the Supreme Court Tenure Establishment and Retirement Modernization (TERM) Act, which would limit how long justices can serve on the bench.

In an earlier interview, he told theGrio that he re-introduced the bill to restore fairness to the court since the justices refuse to adopt ethics rules and standards. 

Johnson believes the Supreme Court “feels like it doesn’t have to” abide by an ethical standard.

“I’d love for the court to save itself from itself and determine that it needs to apply a code of conduct to itself,” he said. “I just don’t know what would happen to cause them to do it.”

Sherman told theGrio that there may be hope for the justices to adopt an ethical code.

“I think we’ve seen over the last several months, several justices make public statements suggesting that the court is moving closer to taking some action on their own,” he said.

“So hopefully, we can see more positive steps towards that end as opposed to more negative stories like the one about Justice Thomas.”

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