Critics are pushing back against a ProPublica report criticizing Justice Clarence Thomas for two unreported speaking engagements with a Koch philanthropy group, saying claims of illegality or unethical behavior are ‘false’ that don’t ‘hold water.’
On Friday, ProPublica — which purports to be an independent, non-partisan outlet but has received donations from left-leaning entities — published the latest in a series criticizing Justice Thomas for allegedly violating Supreme Court ethics, which Thomas has denied.
The Friday report claimed he ‘secretly’ spoke at donor events for a political organization founded by libertarian billionaires Charles and David Koch ‘at least twice over the years.’ But the group, called Stand Together, says the report ‘doesn’t hold water.’
‘Journalistic inquiry into the private dealings of public officials is essential for our democracy. But honest inquiry applies the same standard to all people rather than single out those with whom one disagrees,’ Gretchen Reiter, senior vice president of communications at Stand Together, told Fox News Digital.
‘There is a long tradition of public officials, including Supreme Court Justices, sharing their experiences, ideas and judicial philosophy with members of the public at dinners and other event,’ said Reiter.
‘All of the sitting Justices and many who came before them have contributed to the national dialogue in speeches book tours, and social gatherings. Our events are no different. To claim otherwise is false.’
The event in which Justice Thomas attended occurred in January 2018 in Palm Springs, California. ProPublica notes that a Stand Together spokesperson said, ‘Thomas wasn’t present for fundraising conversations.’
‘Stand Together’s January 2018 summit was attended by several hundred people, including members of the media who covered the event,’ Reiter said.
‘In fact, Stand Together has hosted dozens of summits over decades. The idea that attending a couple events to promote a book or give dinner remarks, as all the justices do, could somehow be undue influence just doesn’t hold water,’ she said.
Reiter added that Stand Together is a ‘philanthropic community that works with thousands of people to remove the barriers holding people back.’
‘Our summits provide a forum for people to learn about how they can partner with one another to solve big problems in our country,’ she said.
ProPublica reported that Leonard Leo, chairman of the conservative legal network the Federalist Society, helped to arrange Justice Thomas’ appearances at the summit.
But Leo says that ‘all necessary due diligence’ was taken to make sure the justices’ attendance was compliant with ethics rules.
‘Justice Thomas attends events all over the country, as do all the Justices, and I was privileged to join him. Justice Thomas has been a dear friend, and I would never pass up an opportunity to help him share, in his own words, his lifetime of accomplishment and judicial philosophy with new audiences,’ Leo said.
‘All the necessary due diligence was performed to ensure the Justice’s attendance at the events was compliant with all ethics requirements,’ he added.
Mark Paoletta, a close friend of Justice Thomas and a lawyer based in Washington, D.C., said that Thomas ‘acted ethically and appropriately,’ contrary to ProPublica’s ‘misleading portrait.’
‘Contrary to the false and misleading portrait by the leftwing, billionaire-funded group ProPublica, Justice Thomas acted ethically and appropriately, and consistent with how many Justices have conducted themselves, as even ProPublica admits,’ Paoletta said in a statement to Fox News Digital.
‘Justice Thomas has given speeches at various events and gatherings across the country. Every Justice does that. This is a good thing, as the Justices should not be cloistered,’ he said.
Paoletta noted that the ‘Judicial Canons,’ which are part of the code of conduct for federal judges, state that ‘a judge should not become isolated from the society in which the judge lives,’ and encourages justices to speak at organizations dedicated to the law ‘and also engage in a wide range of non-law-related activities.’
In addition, Paoletta notes that justices are not required to disclose every speech or gathering they attend.
‘Recently, Justice Thomas met at the Court with 60 students from a school in the Bronx. I can’t wait for ProPublica’s expose about Justice Thomas not disclosing this meeting on his form next year,’ he said.
Carrie Severino, president of JCN and former clerk for Justice Thomas, called the article a ‘hit piece.’
‘Another day and another hit piece on Justice Thomas from Pro Publica, which is nothing more than a front group for left-wing billionaires and their political agendas,’ she said.
ProPublica notes that Thomas could be a key voice in an upcoming Supreme Court case, Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo, which questions a decades-old legal doctrine — the Chevron doctrine — that courts have leaned on to grant authority to executive administrative agencies when a federal regulation is disputed.
Stand Together has financially supported the Cause of Action Institute, the legal organization representing the plaintiffs in the case.
The plaintiffs, a group of New Jersey fishermen, sued the government in 2020, saying that a federal agency requiring them to pay $700 per day for a contractor who monitors their boats to ensure regulatory compliance, is out-of-bounds for a federal agency, and that such a burdensome requirement should be imposed by Congress only.
The fisherman appealed their case to the Supreme Court in 2022. In May, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.
‘Loper Bright is a case seeking to restore one of the core tenets of our democracy: that Congress, not the administrative agency, makes the laws. Cause of Action Institute – which filed the lawsuit in 2020 – is representing family-run fishing companies that the federal government is forcing to pay a tax that Congress never authorized, and that violates our Constitution’s separation of powers,’ said Reiter.
This is an area of law that legal experts from different perspectives have long considered in need of clarification,’ she added.
‘The Supreme Court has an opportunity to correct one of the most consequential judicial errors in a generation. Chevron deference has proven corrosive to the American system of checks and balances and directly contributed to an unaccountable executive branch, overbearing bureaucracy, and runaway regulation,’ Cause of Action Institute counsel Ryan Mulvey said in a statement after the high court agreed to take up the case.