Judicial Conference Indicates Ethics Review of Justice Thomas

Judge's gavel
Gavel on desk. Isolated with good copy space. Dramatic lighting. Stock image

After receiving CLC’s letter asking that the Judicial Conference’s September 2023 Report of the Proceedings be made public, the Judicial Conference provided the smallest glimmer of hope that it is taking enforcement of Justice Thomas’s Ethics in Government Act (EIGA) violations seriously — it provided an update in the newly released Report of the Proceedings about its “ongoing review of public written allegations of errors or omissions in a filer’s financial disclosure reports.”

The Judicial Conference of the United States, the national policymaking body for our federal courts, is comprised of the chief judge of each judicial circuit, the Chief Judge of the Court of International Trade, and a district judge from each regional judicial circuit. The filer in question mentioned in the update is likely to be Justice Thomas based on the timing of when the Judicial Conference received letters from CLC, members of Congress, and other good government organizations regarding Justice Thomas’s failure to report over twenty years of luxury travel gifts.  

While this step may not seem like a cause for celebration, the fact that the Judicial Conference even provided such an update in its Report of the Proceedings is highly unusual. The last time the Judicial Conference received letters regarding Justice Thomas’ apparent willful violations of EIGA for failing to disclose private plane travel, back in 2011, the Judicial Conference completely ignored them.

There was no mention of either the private plane travel gifts Justice Thomas failed to report or any review occurring in the Reports of the Proceedings issued that year. Nearly 13 years later, they have never publicly released any information about the matter.  

In addition to the update about a filer’s financial disclosure reports, the Judicial Conference noted that it discussed “legislative items of interest to the judiciary, including those related to...ethics and transparency.” The Judicial Conference heard from both Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Representative Hank Johnson, who sent letters to the Conference about Justice Thomas’ failure to report travel and other gifts. 

There are very few avenues to achieve ethics enforcement for the Supreme Court, something CLC has often highlighted, but the Judicial Conference’s ability to enforce willful violations of EIGA by referring such violations to the U.S. Attorney General is one way to provide meaningful accountability.

We hope that the Judicial Conference takes its responsibility to uphold EIGA seriously. Action by the Judicial Conference in this matter has the potential to prompt even more accountability in the judiciary, including the creation of an ethics compliance mechanism in the Supreme Court that shows the public it understands that public trust is the foundation for faith in our democratic institutions.

Danielle is a Legal Counsel on CLC's Ethics team.