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Supreme Court Justices Received Nearly $5 Million in Gifts Since Early 2000s, Watchdog Group Reports

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A report released Thursday by watchdog group Fix the Court revealed that Supreme Court justices have received nearly $5 million in gifts since January 2004, with Justice Clarence Thomas accounting for nearly all of it. The dataset, released ahead of the justices’ expected financial disclosure reports on Friday, highlights a concerning trend of gift acceptance among the nation’s highest judges.

According to Fix the Court, Justice Thomas, nominated to the Supreme Court by former President George H.W. Bush, has accepted $4,042,286 in gifts, totaling 193 items. The group also noted an additional 126 “likely but not confirmed” gifts for Thomas. Out of nearly 200 gifts, Thomas only reported 27 on his financial disclosures.

The dataset includes current and former justices dating back to 2004, bringing the total reported gifts to approximately $4.7 million. Fix the Court’s executive director, Gabe Roth, criticized the justices’ acceptance of gifts, emphasizing the potential for undue influence.

“Supreme Court justices should not be accepting gifts, let alone the hundreds of freebies worth millions of dollars they’ve received over the years,” Roth said in a statement. “Public servants who make four times the median local salary, and who can make millions writing books on any topic they like, can afford to pay for their own vacations, vehicles, hunting excursions, and club memberships.”

Roth further argued that the source of the gifts and the generosity behind them could impact the impartiality of the justices. “The ethics crisis at the court won’t begin to abate until justices adopt stricter gift acceptance rules,” he added.

The watchdog group acknowledged that their total gift calculations might be conservative. They were unable to verify some instances, such as a hunting lodge stay by Justice Antonin Scalia. Furthermore, justices who died in office, including Scalia, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and William Rehnquist, might have had their totals underreported.

Scalia received the second-highest total in gifts, with $210,164 from January 2004 until his death in 2016. Justice Samuel Alito ranked third, with $170,095 in gifts from his first day on the bench on January 31, 2006, to the present.

The release of this data comes amidst recent calls by Democrats for Justice Alito to recuse himself from cases related to January 6 and former President Trump, due to reports that a “Stop the Steal” flag was flown outside his house after the Capitol attack. Alito rejected these calls for recusal last week.

The report by Fix the Court shines a light on the ethical concerns surrounding the acceptance of gifts by Supreme Court justices. As the public and legal experts scrutinize these practices, there is growing pressure for the Court to adopt stricter rules on gift acceptance to preserve the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.

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Patrick Zarrelli

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