Senate Republicans stand by Clarence Thomas in the face of growing ethics allegations

Republicans defend Clarence Thomas and deflect from bombshell reports about the Supreme Court justice

By Tatyana Tandanpolie

Staff Writer

Published May 5, 2023 3:58PM (EDT)

Clarence Thomas raises his right hand as he is sworn in, 10 September 1991, during confirmation hearings before the US Senate Judiciary Committee, in Washington D.C. (J. DAVID AKE/AFP via Getty Images)
Clarence Thomas raises his right hand as he is sworn in, 10 September 1991, during confirmation hearings before the US Senate Judiciary Committee, in Washington D.C. (J. DAVID AKE/AFP via Getty Images)

Republican elected officials are slowly coming to the defense of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas after a bombshell report from ProPublica revealed Thursday that GOP megadonor Harlan Crow paid the tuition of the justice's great-nephew, who Thomas has said he raised as his own, for two years while he attended private and boarding school in the mid-to-late 2000s.

Though the exact amount Crow paid on behalf of Thomas' relative is unclear, ProPublica reported that the total could have surpassed $150,000, based on public records of the schools' tuition rates from that time. Thomas did not report the payments in his annual financial disclosures.

The news followed last month's reports that Thomas had also failed to disclose luxury trips Crow gifted him almost every year for decades, including two previously unreported superyacht cruises that ProPublica discovered.

The latest revelation prompted outcry from Democrats online Thursday, many of them questioning the standard's of the Supreme Court and calling for an investigation into Thomas.

"Today would be an excellent day to hear directly from Chief Justice Roberts," Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, tweeted. "It is not some violation of the separation of powers to ask him to defend the basic question: Why does the highest court have the lowest standards?"

Mark Paoletta, the former chief counsel and assistant to former Vice President Mike Pence and friend of Thomas, defended the justice and all but confirmed the report in a lengthy statement shared to Twitter.

"This story is another attempt to manufacture a scandal about Justice Thomas. But let's be clear about what is supposedly scandalous now: Justice Thomas and his wife devoted twelve years of their lives to taking in and caring for a beloved child—who was not their own—just as Justice Thomas's grandparents had done for him. They made many personal and financial sacrifices to do this. And along the way, their friends joined them in doing everything possible to give this child a future," it read.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, also jumped to Thomas' defense Thursday morning, quote-tweeting Paoletta's statement with an image of the justice overlaid with a quote from his memoir where he describes "being pursued not by bigots in white robes but by left-wing zealots draped in flowing sanctimony."

"More true than ever, 31 years later," Lee said in reference to the quote.

The House Judiciary Committee also voiced its support of Thomas, encouraging users to read Paoletta's statement, asking followers to "RT [retweet] if you think Justice Thomas is the [goat]" and later posting the same image of the justice that Lee shared.

Though he did not officially comment on the matter, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, tweeted on Thursday a May 3 article from The Daily Wire titled "Cruz Shreds Democrats' Smear Campaign Against Justice Clarence Thomas."

The article outlines Cruz's defense of Thomas during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday, during which Cruz accused Democrats of attempting to smear Thomas by being "engaged in the same despicable tactics" that then-Sen. Joe Biden used while questioning the justice during his 1991 confirmation hearings.

The Republican senator also retweeted Paoletta's statement.

In what appears to be an attempt to deflect dissent away from Thomas, Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., shared an article from The Daily Wire about liberal Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who reportedly did not recuse herself from three cases involving book publisher Penguin Random House, which has paid her millions in lucrative book deals.

"This article is not about Clarence Thomas, so the mainstream media will censor it," she said. "Retweet to STAND UP to the media and spread the word."

On Friday Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., uploaded a clip of his appearance on Laura Ingraham's show Thursday evening where he called Thomas "a great American" and a "kind-hearted, generous soul" and referenced Sotomayor's actions. Cotton echoed Ingraham's sentiments for viewers to instead aim their attention and criticism at President Biden's son, Hunter, who is at the center of a paternity-related case in Arkansas, if they want to see a "story of self-dealing and conflicts of interest."

"Clarence Thomas is a great American," he repeated in the post. "The attacks of so-called ethics violations are just another attempt to smear him and undermine the Supreme Court."

The outpouring of support from some Senate Republicans is unsurprising following their public backing of Crow after reports that the billionaire keeps a collection of Nazi memorabilia in his home.  

"He has an extensive historical museum that examines World War Two," Cruz told Insider, adding that the media is "deliberately" mischaracterizing the nature of Crow's collection to further damage Thomas' reputation.

By Tatyana Tandanpolie

Tatyana Tandanpolie is a staff writer at Salon. Born and raised in central Ohio, she moved to New York City in 2018 to pursue degrees in Journalism and Africana Studies at New York University. She is currently based in her home state and has previously written for local Columbus publications, including Columbus Monthly, CityScene Magazine and The Columbus Dispatch.

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Brief Clarence Thomas Democrats Harlan Crowe Marsha Blackburn Mike Lee Politics Republicans Scotus Ted Cruz