Virginia Thomas earned over $680,000 from conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation over five years, a group says. But Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas did not include it on financial disclosure forms.
January 22, 2011|By Kim Geiger, Washington Bureau
Reporting from Washington — Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas failed to report his wife's income from a conservative think tank on financial disclosure forms for at least five years, the watchdog group Common Cause said Friday.
Between 2003 and 2007, Virginia Thomas, a longtime conservative activist, earned $686,589 from the Heritage Foundation, according to a Common Cause review of the foundation's IRS records. Thomas failed to note the income in his Supreme Court financial disclosure forms for those years, instead checking a box labeled "none" where "spousal noninvestment income" would be disclosed.A Supreme Court spokesperson could not be reached for comment late Friday. But Virginia Thomas' employment by the Heritage Foundation was well known at the time.
Virginia Thomas also has been active in the group Liberty Central, an organization she founded to restore the "founding principles" of limited government and individual liberty.
In his 2009 disclosure, Justice Thomas also reported spousal income as "none." Common Cause contends that Liberty Central paid Virginia Thomas an unknown salary that year.
Federal judges are bound by law to disclose the source of spousal income, according to Stephen Gillers, a professor at NYU School of Law. Thomas' omission — which could be interpreted as a violation of that law — could lead to some form of penalty, Gillers said.
"It wasn't a miscalculation; he simply omitted his wife's source of income for six years, which is a rather dramatic omission," Gillers said. "It could not have been an oversight."
But Steven Lubet, an expert on judicial ethics at Northwestern University School of Law, said such an infraction was unlikely to result in a penalty. Although unfamiliar with the complaint about Thomas' forms, Lubet said failure to disclose spousal income "is not a crime of any sort, but there is a potential civil penalty" for failing to follow the rules. He added: "I am not aware of a single case of a judge being penalized simply for this."
The Supreme Court is "the only judicial body in the country that is not governed by a set of judicial ethical rules," Gillers said.
A spokesman for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, which oversees the financial disclosures, could not be reached Friday night to comment on what actions could be taken. In most cases, judges simply amend their forms when an error is discovered.