Clarence Thomas' Acceptance of Gifts Tops Justices
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has accepted tens of thousands of dollars worth of gifts since joining the Supreme Court....
"Why would someone do that -- give a gift to Clarence Thomas? Unless they are family members or really close friends, the only reason to give gifts is to influence the judge," said Mark I. Harrison, a Phoenix lawyer who heads the ABA's Commission on the Model Code of Judicial Conduct. "And we think it is not helpful to have judges accepting gifts for no apparent reason."
"The public has to wonder when a justice accepts lavish gifts," said Northwestern University law professor Steven Lubet, a legal ethics expert. "The rich and powerful have a different set of economic interests than other people, and they can afford to give lavish gifts."
Thomas, through a court spokeswoman, declined to comment when asked in writing why he deemed it appropriate to accept some of the larger gifts. But a former clerk to Thomas defended the practice.
"I don't see anything wrong in this. I don't see why it is inappropriate to get gifts from friends," said John C. Yoo, now a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley. "This reflects a bizarre effort to over-ethicize everyday life. If one of these people were to appear before the Supreme Court, Justice Thomas would recuse himself. So I don't see the problem."
Despite the open-ended rules, most of the other Supreme Court justices reported accepting only items of lesser value, or token gifts for speaking at formal events, or nothing at all.
The Los Angeles Times reviewed the disclosures of all nine justices for the years 1998 through 2003, the only period of time for which disclosure forms were still on file at the court. They reported receiving cash, which they usually gave to charity, but kept or used various valuable items, mementos and club memberships.
In that six-year period, Thomas accepted $42,200 in gifts, making him easily the top recipient.
Next was Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who accepted $5,825 in gifts, mostly small crystal figurines and other items. She also reported an $18,000 award in 2003 from the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, but listed it as income. The money was for the society's Benjamin Franklin Award for Distinguished Public Service. She gave other cash awards to charity.
Third was Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, who accepted a $5,000-award from Fordham University -- the only gift he reported for the six-year period.