WASHINGTON (AP), -- On Monday, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee asked Chief Justice John Roberts of the U.S. Supreme Court to open an investigation into the undisclosed receipt by Justice Clarence Thomas and his spouse of luxury trips that were paid for with a Republican megadonor.
According to the letter, the committee will hold a hearing on the "need to restore faith in the Supreme Court’s ethical standards." The committee may vote on legislation if the Supreme Court doesn't address the issue. To become law, such a measure would need to be supported by the Republican-led House.
Roberts was informed by 11 Democratic senators that he doesn't need Congress' approval to conduct their own investigation into the allegations and ensure it does not happen again. 'We urge you to do so.'
ProPublica, a non-profit investigative journalism group, reported Thursday that Thomas has accepted luxury trips almost every year from Harlan Crow, a Republican donor, for more than 31 of his years as a justice.
ProPublica reported that Thomas, 74, and Virginia traveled aboard Crow's private yacht and private plane, as well as staying at Crow's private resort in New York's Adirondack Mountains. If Thomas had chartered the yacht and plane, the trip to Indonesia in 2019 could have cost over $500,000.
Democratic senators stated that Thomas's acceptance of Harlan favors was well-known more than a decade before. They pointed out that senators had requested that the Supreme Court court adopt a resolution declaring that the justices follow the ethics rules of the federal judiciary.
The senators wrote that "this problem could have been solved then." "But, ProPublica's reporting shows that Mr. Crow's dispensation favors escalated secretly over the years. The Court now faces a crisis in public confidence in its ethical standards, which must be addressed.
Thomas stated Friday that he wasn't required to disclose the trip details. Like federal judges, Supreme Court justices must file an annual financial disclosure. This report asks them to list any gifts received but allows for exemptions for hospitality given by friends.
There are varying opinions among ethics experts as to whether Thomas should have disclosed the trips. The federal judiciary increased disclosure requirements for all judges, even the highest court justices. However, overnight stays in personal vacation homes owned and managed by friends are still exempted from disclosure.
The Democratic senators led by Senator Richard Durbin, chairman, of the Judiciary Committee, referred to the bolstered disclosure requirements as a "modest step in a right direction," but stated that further action was necessary.