Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is once again at the center of an allegation of unethical behavior as a new report reveals his former aid received Venmo payments from lawyers who had business before the high court, including one who successfully argued against race-conscious admissions.
According to The Guardian, Rajan Vasisht, who served as Thomas’s aide from July 2019 to July 2021, received the payments possibly connected to Thomas’ 2019 Christmas party.
The new findings add to ongoing ethics scandals surrounding Thomas, including revelations about his ties to wealthy billionaire donors, and have spurred calls for new ethics rules.
Richard Painter, former chief White House ethics lawyer during the George W. Bush administration and a prominent critic of the influence of dark money in politics, said the transactions were “not appropriate.”
“It is not appropriate. Thomas could extend invitations to his Christmas party, and he could attend other parties, as long as legal cases are not discussed,” Painter said. “However, lawyers should not be paying for his Christmas party. A federal government employee receiving money from lawyers for any reason… I fail to comprehend how that could be justified.”
Still, it remains unclear what the Venmo funds were for, but Patrick Strawbridge, a partner at Consovoy McCarthy who successfully fought for the court to outlaw affirmative action late last month, was among the attorneys who sent Vasisht money through the app. Thomas wrote a 58-page opinion with the June 29 Supreme Court ruling against affirmative action, laying out his opposition to the policy meant to secure opportunities for minorities.
Vasisht also received money via Venmo from attorneys connected to former President Donald Trump and another who worked on a case regarding the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
The new report is one of several that have put the Black justice’s ethics into question. The New York Times also released a report on July 9 that revealed Thomas was gifted a Super Bowl ring from Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
Thomas also flew in Jones’ private jet to attend the team’s training camp and sat in Jones’ owner’s box for his favorite team. The revelation was part of a larger investigative piece that also divulges Thomas’ ties to the Horatio Alger Association, through which he rubbed shoulders with the wealthiest Americans.
An April report by ProPublica also chronicled Thomas’ close relationship with GOP billionaire donor Harlan Crow, whom he would jet set with on lavish vacations. Crow also bought Thomas gifts worth thousands of dollars and paid for Thomas’ mother’s home and grandnephew’s tuition.