Protesters call on Clarence Thomas to resign

Activists hold signs calling on Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to resign during a protest on April 19, 2023.

(Photo: Stefani Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)

'Corruption, Plain and Simple': Gifts Flowed to Clarence Thomas After Salary Complaints

"What a coincidence," Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. wrote in response to ProPublica's latest revelation. "Corrupt Clarence Thomas should resign from the Supreme Court."

The investigative outlet ProPublicarevealed Monday that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas complained about his salary to a Republican congressman more than 20 years ago, setting off concerns that the right-wing judge would resign and deprive the conservative movement of one of its most powerful champions.

What followed Thomas' private complaint to then-Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) in 2000 was "a stream of gifts from friends and acquaintances that appears to be unparalleled in the modern history of the Supreme Court," ProPublica noted Monday, pointing to the free luxury travel, private school tuition, loan forgiveness for an RV purchase, and other support that the justice has gotten from right-wing billionaires such as Harlan Crow, a Republican megadonor.

While the outlet acknowledged that there is "no evidence the justice ever raised the specter of resigning with Crow or his other wealthy benefactors," watchdogs described the latest revelations about Thomas' conduct as further evidence of the justice's corruption.

"Here's the motive for the scheme to give Clarence Thomas a lifestyle of luxury: to keep him on the court, advancing a right-wing agenda to change our rights," Lisa Graves, founder and executive director of True North Research, wrote on social media. "This is corruption, plain and simple."

"He threatened to quit the court unless he got a pay raise, then billionaires started secretly funding his luxury lifestyle and making payments to Ginni."

Thomas was reportedly hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt when he began complaining about his salary, which was $173,600 a year in 2000—equivalent to more than $300,000 today.

The justice's salary complaint to Stearns and suggestion that "one or more justices will leave soon" over supposedly insufficient pay were detailed in a June 13, 2000 memo that a judiciary official sent to then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist. ProPublica obtained the memo and other documents that shine light on how Thomas was discussing his finances at the time.

"He was one of the least wealthy members of the court, and on multiple occasions in that period, he pushed for ways to make more money. In other private conversations, Thomas repeatedly talked about removing a ban on justices giving paid speeches," the outlet reported, adding that Congress never removed the prohibition.

Following Thomas' complaint, Stearns pledged in a letter to the justice that he would "look into a bill to raise the salaries of members of the Supreme Court" and later "sought help from a lobbying firm working on the issue."

Congress did not end up giving the justices a substantial raise.

In a recent interview with ProPublica, Stearns said that he and other conservatives "wanted to make sure he felt comfortable in his job and he was being paid properly."

"His importance as a conservative was paramount," said Stearns.

ProPublica's investigation found that Thomas' finances appear to have "markedly improved" during his second decade on the high court, which has recently been embroiled in an ethics crisis stemming largely from undisclosed gifts that Thomas and fellow right-wing Justice Samuel Alito received from ultra-rich conservatives with interests before the court.

"In 2003, [Thomas] received the first payments of a $1.5 million advance for his memoir, a record-breaking sum for justices at the time. Ginni Thomas, who had been a congressional staffer, was by then working at the Heritage Foundation and was paid a salary in the low six figures," the outlet reported. "Thomas also received dozens of expensive gifts throughout the 2000s, sometimes coming from people he'd met only shortly before."

Alex Aronson, former chief counsel on the Senate Judiciary Committee, argued that ProPublica's "bombshell provides evidence of quid pro quo corruption by Clarence Thomas."

"He threatened to quit the court unless he got a pay raise, then billionaires started secretly funding his luxury lifestyle and making payments to Ginni," Aronson added.

Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.Y.) wrote on social media that "right-wing billionaires feared Clarence Thomas would resign and then poof glitzy trips and paid flights and free RVs and tuition materialized magically."

"What a coincidence," Pascrell continued. "Corrupt Clarence Thomas should resign from the Supreme Court."

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