An in-depth New York Times story examining Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas‘ membership in an exclusive club of wealthy Americans—and the benefits he has reaped from the association—sparked fresh calls for his resignation on Sunday, with watchdogs and lawmakers decrying the new report as further evidence of deep-seated corruption at the nation’s most powerful judicial body.
Months after his confirmation to the Supreme Court in 1991, according to the Times, Thomas was accepted into the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, a group named after the Gilded Age American author Horatio Alger.
“At Horatio Alger, he moved into the inner circle, a cluster of extraordinarily wealthy, largely conservative members who lionized him and all that he had achieved,” the newspaper reported. “While he has never held an official leadership position, in some ways he has become the association’s leading light. He has granted it unusual access to the Supreme Court, where every year he presides over the group’s signature event: a ceremony in the courtroom at which he places Horatio Alger medals around the necks of new lifetime members.”
The new reporting comes on the heels of a series of revelations from the investigative outlet ProPublica, which uncovered decades of trips Thomas took on the dime of billionaire Harlan Crow, who is deeply enmeshed in right-wing politics.
ProPublica also found a previously undisclosed real estate deal between Crow and Thomas, who just recently joined his fellow conservative justices in ruling against affirmative action and student debt relief for more than 40 million Americans.
“But a look at his tenure at the Horatio Alger Association, based on more than two dozen interviews and a review of public filings and internal documents, shows that Justice Thomas has received benefits—many of them previously unreported—from a broader cohort of wealthy and powerful friends,” the Times reported Sunday. “They have included major donors to conservative causes with broad policy and political interests and much at stake in Supreme Court decisions, even if they were not directly involved in the cases.”
According to the Times, the justice’s circle at the Horatio Alger Association has included billionaire industrialist Dennis Washington and the late Wayne Huizenga, “the entrepreneur who built the Blockbuster Video empire and owned the Miami Dolphins.”
“In 2001, Mr. Huizenga’s foundation joined Mr. Crow in helping underwrite the restoration and dedication of a library wing in Savannah in the justice’s honor,” the Times found. “In the 2000s, Justice Thomas made annual visits to South Florida to help Mr. Huizenga… pass out scholarships, sometimes also meeting with the team. At least once, Justice Thomas flew in a private jet emblazoned with the Dolphins logo.”
“We have an unelected, unaccountable, corrupt body of people that stand in the way of democracy.”
Thomas has also become close with ultra-millionaire executive David Sokol through the Horatio Alger Association. The Times reported that Sokol “describes the justice and his wife as ‘close personal friends,’ and in 2015, the Sokols hosted the Thomases for a visit to their sprawling Montana ranch. The Sokols have also hosted the Thomases at their waterfront mansion in Florida.”
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who has spent much of the last several years spotlighting how shadowy special interests have captured the Supreme Court, tweeted Sunday that “billionaire emoluments to [Federalist Society] justices just keep piling up.”
“More to come I’m sure, once we crack the omertà,” Whitehouse added.
The watchdog organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington reiterated its call for Thomas to resign following publication of the Times story.
Yes, Clarence Thomas needs to resign.
No, we are not moving on from this. https://t.co/7OWof0W8bR
— Citizens for Ethics (@CREWcrew) July 9, 2023
Unique among federal judges, Supreme Court justices are not bound by a code of ethics, leaving massive openings for the powerful lifetime appointees to accept gifts from wealthy people who have business before the court.
Last month, ProPublica revealed that Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito took an undisclosed private jet flight to Alaska in 2008 with Paul Singer, a billionaire hedge fund tycoon directly tied to cases that reached the court in subsequent years. Singer also has financial connections to right-wing groups fighting student debt relief.
Days after ProPublica published its story, Alito joined Thomas and the high court’s four other conservative justices in blocking the Biden administration’s student debt cancellation program.
Mounting evidence of the conservative supermajority’s corruption and the court’s latest destructive rulings have intensified calls for sweeping high court reforms, including adding justices to the bench and imposing a binding code of ethics.
“We have to start coming to terms with just how much of a democracy we still don’t have,” Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change, toldThe Guardian on Sunday. “We have an unelected, unaccountable, corrupt body of people that stand in the way of democracy, stand in the way of justice, and stand in the way of the will of the people.”
In a “Dear Colleague” letter on Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) wrote that “Americans’ faith in the judiciary is at an all-time low after the extreme MAGA right captured the Supreme Court and achieved dangerous, regressive policies completely at odds with what the vast majority of Americans want.”
“At the same time, this MAGA-captured Supreme Court feels free to accept lavish gifts and vacations from their powerful, billionaire friends,” Schumer continued. “And these are no ordinary billionaires—they are ideological extremists who bankroll hard-right MAGA causes and then bring those cases before the same justices they’ve patronized.”
“Congress has clear authority to oversee the federal judiciary,” he added, “and we must explore every option for restoring faith in our courts.”