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Justice Clarence Thomas delays filing financial disclosure amid increased ethics scrutiny

Oprah Winfrey's $1,200 flower arrangement given to Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was among the gifts justices disclosed as part of annual financial disclosure process.
Members of the Supreme Court in Washington on Oct. 7, 2022.
The Supreme Court in Washington on Oct. 7.Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post via Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has asked for an extension in filing his annual financial disclosure report amid increased scrutiny of his ethical obligations.

Thomas, as well as fellow conservative Justice Samuel Alito, asked for a delay in filing, which is allowed under federal law, a spokesman for the judiciary said.

Other justices did submit their annual financial disclosure reports listing earnings, assets, gifts and stock holdings on time. Those reports were posted online Wednesday.

The justices have been under fire for alleged ethics lapses following a ProPublica report that detailed Thomas’ acceptance of lavish trips from Harlan Crow, a billionaire Republican donor.

The reports included, as usual, such information as outside income the justices earned by writing books or teaching at law schools, as well as expensive gifts they sometimes receive.

In the new filings, Chief Justice John Roberts reported that he had "inadvertently omitted" from previous reports the fact that his wife, legal recruiter Jane Roberts, had an equity holding in Macrae Inc., the firm where she works. He noted that the holding was worth between $100,000 and $250,000.

Questions were raised recently about whether Roberts might have a conflict of interest related to his wife's work because she does business with firms that have cases before the court.

Liberal Justice Elena Kagan noted her report that between $2,500 and $5,000 she receives in income from property she owns is from a parking space she rents out in a building in Washington, a detail that was not previously known.

Newly appointed liberal Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson listed a "congratulatory flower arrangement" worth $1,200 that she received as a gift from Oprah Winfrey.

She also reported a "designer dress and jacket" worth $6,580 that she wore for a Vogue photo shoot and decided to keep.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, another liberal, reported almost $150,000 in book royalties from her publisher, Penguin Random House. She also noted that she had received $2,225 for theater production rights for one of her books.

The reports also reveal stocks some justices own, which sometimes helps explain why they step aside in certain cases involving those companies.

Justices can ask for extensions of up to 90 days to file their financial disclosures.

The ProPublica reporting focused in part on Thomas' failure to disclose travel and other hospitality he received from Crow, prompting calls from Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee for more information about their relationship and demands for new Supreme Court ethics rules.

Thomas said the gifts from Crow constituted “personal hospitality," meaning he did not have to disclose them. A lawyer representing Crow said this week he would speak to Judiciary Committee staffers.

Disclosure rules were changed in March, shortly before the ProPublica article was published, to make it clear that trips on private jets and stays at privately owned resorts like one Crow owns in upstate New York would have to be disclosed.

The new guidelines apply to any disclosures filed after the rule change, which include the 2022 reports that were submitted in May, a spokeswoman for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts said.

Thomas has said he will abide by the new guidelines.

Among the activities last year that Thomas could address in his report is a visit to a conservative conference in Dallas in May 2022. Thomas spoke at the event, which was held at a facility owned by Crow's real estate company.

ProPublica said in its April article that Crow's private jet had flown from Washington to Dallas at the time of the event, suggesting Thomas may have traveled on it. As a result, ethics watchdogs will be looking closely to see whether Thomas reports the trip.

"He should disclose it, but will he?" said Gabe Roth, the executive director of Fix the Court, a group that has pushed for greater court transparency.

The articles about Thomas have led to new calls for the Supreme Court to adopt a binding code of ethics similar to the one lower court judges follow.

The justices said in a statement in April that they "reaffirm and restate" their commitment to ethics principles. The justices noted that they file the same financial disclosure reports other federal judges do and follow the same general principles and standards for recusal, as well.

However, ethics experts said the statement fell short on several fronts, and congressional Democrats immediately criticized it.

Roberts appeared to concede that more needed to be done in public remarks last month.

“I want to assure people I am committed to making certain that we as a court adhere to the highest standards of conduct. We are continuing to look at things we can do to give practical effect to that commitment,” he said.