WASHINGTON — Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas failed over the course of at least five years to report his wife's income from a conservative think tank on his financial disclosures, according to the watchdog group Common Cause.
Between 2003 and 2007, Virginia Thomas, a longtime conservative activist, was paid $686,589 by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, according to a Common Cause review of IRS records. Justice Thomas failed to note the income in his financial disclosure forms for those years, choosing instead to check a box titled "none" where "spousal noninvestment income" would normally be disclosed.
A Supreme Court spokesperson authorized to speak on behalf of the justices could not immediately 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 for the purpose of restoring 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 during that year.
Federal judges are bound by law to disclose the source of spousal income, according to Stephen Gillers, a law professor at New York University Law School. Justice 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."
The Supreme Court is "the only judicial body in the country that is not governed by a set of judicial ethical rules," Gillers said.
But Steven Lubet, an expert on judicial ethics at Northwestern University School of Law, said that such an infraction was unlikely to result in a penalty.