Where is the Judicial Conference’s Update on Justice Thomas’ Ethics Investigation?

A wooden gavel resting on top of a blue notebook

The Judicial Conference is one of the only bodies that can enforce ethics laws against Supreme Court justices. That is why CLC wrote a letter to the Judicial Conference asking them to release the summary of their most recent meeting held nearly three months ago.  

This Report of the Proceedings for the meeting should contain information about its investigation into Justice Clarence Thomas for willfully violating the Ethics in Government Act (EIGA).

As an unelected institution, the Supreme Court should take every measure to ensure the public that justices are acting in good faith to put the country first, not just a select few. But instead, the Court is held to lower ethical standards than both other branches of government. Even with their new code of conduct in place, there is no office or other mechanism to enforce the ethics rules and laws that apply to justices, rendering the code merely aspirational.

Under EIGA, the Judicial Conference is in a unique position, as it is tasked with determining whether there is reasonable cause to believe that Justice Thomas knowingly and willfully withheld information on his financial disclosure statements.  

If the Judicial Conference determines that there is reasonable cause to believe, then it has a responsibility to refer the matter to the U.S. Attorney General. This is one way to provide meaningful accountability for the ethical violations of a Supreme Court justice. Failure to do so would further harm public confidence in the judiciary.  

The Judicial Conference already took the first small, positive step towards enforcement back in September 2023, when it indicated that it was reviewing public written allegations against a filer, most likely Justice Thomas. But now is the time for the Judicial Conference to take the next step by publishing the Report and disclosing where it is in its investigation, and whether it will be referring Justice Thomas to the Department of Justice. 

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