Billionaires buy justice, just as they buy everything else. They live by the business creed that everything and everyone has a price—even presidents, legislators, and Supreme Court justices.


Many have argued that Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas is such a justice—a man who enjoys the perks and payola of power.   


Thomas was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1991. By 2000, the justice had made roughly $1.5 million dollars in salary. He was paid $173,600 a year by taxpayers to serve on the Court. The average American salary in 1991 was nearly $21,000. That had increased to almost $31,000 by 2000. So Justice Thomas was making roughly eight times what the average American made during the nine years between 1991 and 2000.


By 2000, the average American carried $4,000 in debt. Justice Thomas, on the other hand, was hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, according to a December 18, 2023 ProPublica report. The average American paid their debt while Justice Thomas, according to ProPublica, whined about his paltry salary that had him drowning in debt. The justice began to let key congressional legislators and conservative billionaires know about his dissatisfaction with that paltry salary and his thoughts of resigning from the Court.


Of course, the prospect of losing a friendly ally on the nation’s highest court sent the conservative political community into a proverbial tizzy. One billionaire friend effectively bought Justice Thomas a prized, top-of-the-line RV for the tidy sum of $267,000. Other billionaire friends remodeled and paid off the mortgage to the justice’s mother’s house, and another paid the expensive private school tuition for a nephew the Thomas’s had raised as a son.


The gift-giving got so good that Justice Thomas suddenly found himself the beneficiary of private jet trips to luxurious, exotic places around the globe and vacations to just about anywhere his justice-serving heart desired. And it was all free, courtesies of his billionaire confidants—and since the gifts and benefits came from such respected billionaires, Justice Thomas didn’t feel the need to disclose any of it on his mandatory financial disclosure forms, much less to the IRS where appropriate. ProPublica put it this way:


“… Thomas accepted a stream of gifts from friends and acquaintances that appears to be unparalleled in the modern history of the Supreme Court. Some defrayed living expenses, large and small—private school tuition, vehicle batteries, and tires. Other gifts from a coterie of ultrarich men supplemented his lifestyle, such as free international vacations on the private jet and superyacht of Dallas real estate billionaire Harlan Crow.


“Precisely what led to many people to offer Thomas money and other gifts remains an open question. There’s no evidence the justice ever raised the specter of resigning with Crow or his other wealthy benefactors.”


What is not an “open question” is that Justice Thomas suddenly found a new fondness for his position on the Supreme Court. He decided not to resign. He had wonderful health care benefits, free meals with the Court, an expense account, clerks who did most of the work for him, and a lifetime guarantee of employment with the Court.


Of course, it’s that “open question” that is troubling. Billionaires don’t generally shower people with gifts and underwrite their basic life necessities (down to vehicle batteries) without some expectation of a return on their dollar. That expectation is what made them billionaires to begin with. The following reporting by ProPublica explains why that “open question” is so troubling:


“During his second decade on the Court, Thomas’ financial situation appears to have markedly improved. In 2003, he received his first payments of a $1.5 million advance for his memoir, a record-breaking sum for justices at the time. Ginni Thomas (the justice’s wife), who had been a congressional staffer, was by then working at the Heritage Foundation and was paid a salary in the low six figures.


“Thomas also received dozens of expensive gifts throughout the 2000s, sometimes coming from people he’d met only shortly before. Thomas met Earl Dixon, owner of a Florida pest control company, while getting his RV services outside Tampa in 2001, according to the Thomas biography “Supreme Discomfort.” The next year, Dixon gave Thomas $5,000 to put toward his grandnephew’s tuition. Thomas reported the payment in his annual disclosure filing.”


“Larger gifts went undisclosed. Crow paid for two years of private high school, which tuition rates indicate would’ve cost roughly $100,000. In 2008, another wealthy friend forgave ‘a substantial amount, or even all’ of the principal on the loan Thomas had used to buy the quarter-million dollar RV, according to a recent Senate inquiry prompted by The New York Times’ reporting. Much of the Thomases’ leisure time was also paid for by a small set of billionaire businessmen, who brought the justice and his family on free vacations around the world. (Thomas has said that he did not need to disclose the gifts of travel and his lawyer has disputed the Senate’s findings about the RV.)


“By 2019, the justices’ pay hadn’t changed beyond keeping up with inflation. But Thomas’ views had apparently transformed from two decades before. That June, during a public appearance, Thomas was asked about salaries at the Court. ‘Oh goodness, I think it’s plenty,’ Thomas responded. ‘My wife and I are doing fine. We don’t live extravagantly, but we are fine.’


“A few weeks later, Thomas boarded Crow’s private jet to head to Indonesia. He and his wife were off on vacation, an island cruise on Crow’s 162-foot yacht.”


To say the least, Justice Thomas’ primary souce of income creates an “open question” about billionaires and justice before the U.S. Supreme Court.