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‘Big Breathless Nothingburger’: Conservative Legal Scholars, Lawmakers Blast ‘Partisan’ Justice Thomas Report

  • Conservative legal experts and lawmakers called a Thursday ProPublica report on Clarence Thomas’ vacations with friend and billionaire real estate developer Harlan Crow “partisan,” saying he did not violate any ethics rules.
  • Ilya Shapiro, senior fellow and director of Constitutional Studies at the Manhattan Institute, told the Daily Caller News Foundation the report was a “big breathless nothingburger” and that Democrat calls for Thomas’ resignation are just “political grandstanding.”
  • Republican Utah Sen. Mike Lee said the report was “designed only to mislead the public and smear an honorable man.”

Conservative legal experts and lawmakers criticized what they called a “partisan” and misleading report on Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, which claimed to show he violated ethics rules by accepting expense-paid vacations from friend and billionaire real estate developer Harlan Crow.

Thomas did not disclose the invitations he accepted from Crow, a GOP donor, over the past two decades, ProPublica reported Thursday, though Thomas noted in response Friday that he “sought guidance” from colleagues who advised him the trips were not reportable. Conservatives slammed the report as a partisan attempt to attack the justice, whose legal opinions Democrats dislike, without pressing any substantive critique.

Ilya Shapiro, senior fellow and director of Constitutional Studies at the Manhattan Institute, told the Daily Caller News Foundation the ethics rules at the time did not require disclosure.

“The new ethics rules that would require disclosure of some of these gifts didn’t go into effect until last month (March 2023) and the previous rules excluded personal gifts of all kinds—anything other than a third party paying for commercial travel/hotel,” he said, noting that the yachts and private planes Thomas traveled on were “not reportable” because they still counted as personal hospitality.

ProPublica acknowledged the personal hospitality exemption, but stated it did not apply to transportation, citing two ethics law experts.

Democrats widely condemned the justice following the report, calling for his resignation, an investigation and reforms to the court as a whole.

“It’s all political grandstanding and continued left-wing frustration at their loss of control over the Court,” Shapiro told the DCNF. “The ProPublica report is a big breathless nothingburger.”

Multiple other legal scholars argued that Thomas did not break any rules.

Jonathan Turley, Shapiro chair of Public Interest Law at George Washington University, noted on Twitter that there is “no evidence that the failure to disclose was either an ethical or constitutional violation.”

“We can debate the need for a code of ethics that apply to the justices, but there was no clear reporting obligation under judicial ethics for Thomas in such matters of ‘personal hospitality,’” he wrote on Friday.

Ohio Northern University law professor Scott Douglas Gerber, who wrote a book on Thomas, said in a column for the Hill on Monday that Supreme Court justices are “allowed to have friends, even if a particular friend is rich and a particular justice is conservative.”

“Clarence Thomas has written a lot of important Supreme Court opinions during his three decades on the bench,” he said. “I recommend that we spend our time addressing those and leave his personal life to him.”

A handful of Republican lawmakers, such as Judiciary Committee member and Republican Utah Sen. Mike Lee, also echoed the notion that the report was a “partisan attack.”

“The recent disgusting attempt to discredit Justice Clarence Thomas is yet another inexcusable and blatant partisan attack, designed only to mislead the public and smear an honorable man,” Lee wrote on Friday.

“Justice Thomas is a brilliant jurist who has served the American people with distinction, tirelessly defending our Constitution,” he said. “The repeated attacks on him and his wife, Ginni, are utterly shameful. Justice Thomas’ accomplishments and legacy should be celebrated and cherished, not maliciously attacked.”

House Judiciary Chair and Republican Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan expressed support for Thomas on Monday, tweeting simply “God Bless Justice Thomas and his family.”

On Saturday, Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said the Left will “stop at nothing — no matter how scurrilous — to try to destroy Justice Thomas and the Court.”

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