At just shy of 32 years on the bench, Clarence Thomas is the longest-serving justice currently serving on the U.S. Supreme Court, and nearly his entire tenure has been rife with controversy.
From the Anita Hill sexual harassment allegations during his confirmation hearings to the recent reports that he accepted undisclosed luxury gifts from Republican donors, the conservative justice has been a lightning rod of controversy throughout his tenure.
Anita Hall Harassment Allegations
Lawyer and law professor Anita Hill worked as a legal adviser to Thomas during her time at the U.S. Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights and then later at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. According to Hill, Thomas sexually harassed her repeatedly in both posts, making frequent sexual advances and explicit remarks.
The FBI questioned Hill about these incidents shortly after President George H.W. Bush nominated Thomas for the Supreme Court in 1991. Her statements were then leaked to the media, prompting further investigations that led to Hill testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Despite Hill’s testimony, Thomas was confirmed on October 16, 1991, by a vote of 52-48, the slimmest margin for any judge on the court until Brett Kavanaugh’s 50-48 vote 27 years later. In his 2007 autobiography, Thomas called Hill his “most traitorous adversary” and said her claims were politically motivated, an allegation she pushed back against.
Failure to Report Wife’s Income
Thomas’ wife, attorney and conservative activist Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, has been at the center of many controversies surrounding her husband, starting with claims that Thomas failed to report more than $686,000 in income that Ginni earned while she worked at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.
She received the paychecks between 2003 and 2007, but Thomas’ financial disclosure forms stated she had no income in that time, the advocacy group Common Cause reported in 2011. Thomas later amended 20 years worth of disclosure forms to correct the omissions.
Affordable Care Act Calls for Recusal
In 2009, Ginni founded Liberty Central, a political advocacy group associated with the Tea Party movement, and said she was working to repeal President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act health care legislation, which Ginni called “unconstitutional law.”
Two years later, 74 Democratic members of the House of Representatives wrote a letter calling on Thomas to recuse himself from any cases regarding the Act, calling his wife’s lobbying work a conflict of interest. Thomas did not recuse himself, and when the Supreme Court upheld the law’s constitutionality in 2012, he was among the dissenters in the 5-4 vote.
Moira Smith Allegations
In 2016, lawyer Moira Smith alleged that Thomas had groped her during a dinner party in 1999. She said she was inspired to break her 17-year silence after the release of a video featuring then–presidential candidate Donald Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women.
“This claim is preposterous, and it never happened,” Thomas said of Smith’s allegation. In a 2018 op-ed, Smith wrote that she was unsure if speaking out against Thomas was “worth it,” but she hopes “my contribution to this conversation might have pushed it forward in some small way.”
Wife’s Claims About Trump’s Election
Following Trump’s failed reelection bid in 2020, Ginni repeatedly texted Trump’s former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, embracing various conspiracy theories and urging him to overturn the election results. “Do not concede. It takes time for the army who is gathering for his back,” she wrote in one of the messages.
Ginni also messaged at least 29 Arizona lawmakers urging them to throw out Joe Biden’s victory in the state and choose presidential electors that would support Trump. “Never before in our nation’s history have our elections been so threatened by fraud and unconstitutional procedures,” she wrote in one of the emails.
A Quinnipiac poll found 52% of Americans believe Thomas should recuse himself from Supreme Court cases related to the 2020 election due to his wife’s activities. Legal experts have also said he should recuse himself from cases involving the U.S. Capitol attack by Trump supporters on Jan. 6, 2021. There are no cases currently in front of the court regarding either event.
Undisclosed Luxury Gifts
On April 6, 2023, ProPublica reported that Thomas and his wife had taken undisclosed luxury trips from Republican mega-donor Harlan Crow for more than two decades and also spent time at Crow’s private resort and exclusive retreats.
Thomas failed to list these items on his annual financial disclosure reports, which is required by law for Supreme Court justices and other federal judges. Thomas declined to respond to inquiries from ProPublica about the incident.
“This behavior is simply inconsistent with the ethical standards the American people expect of any public servant, let alone a justice on the Supreme Court,” said Dick Durbin, the Democratic chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called for Thomas to be impeached.
Colin McEvoy joined the Biography.com staff in 2023, and before that had spent 16 years as a journalist, writer, and communications professional. He is the author of two true crime books: Love Me or Else and Fatal Jealousy. He is also an avid film buff, reader, and lover of great stories.