Clarence Thomas has for years claimed income from a defunct real estate firm
Over the last two decades, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has reported on required financial disclosure forms that his family received rental income totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars from a firm called Ginger, Ltd., Partnership.
But that company — a Nebraska real estate firm launched in the 1980s by his wife and her relatives — has not existed since 2006.
That year, the family real estate company was shut down and a separate firm was created, state incorporation records show. The similarly named firm assumed control of the shuttered company’s land leasing business, according to property records.
Since that time, however, Thomas has continued to report income from the defunct company — between $50,000 and $100,000 annually in recent years — and there is no mention of the newer firm, Ginger Holdings, LLC, on the forms.
The previously unreported misstatement might be dismissed as a paperwork error. But it is among a series of errors and omissions that Thomas has made on required annual financial disclosure forms over the past several decades, a review of those records shows. Together, they have raised questions about how seriously Thomas views his responsibility to accurately report details about his finances to the public.
Thomas’s disclosure history is in the spotlight after ProPublica revealed this month that a Texas billionaire took him on lavish vacations and also bought from Thomas and his relatives a Georgia home where his mother lives, a transaction that was not disclosed on the forms. Thomas said in a statement that colleagues he did not name told him he did not have to report the vacations and that he has always tried to comply with disclosure guidelines. He has not publicly addressed the property transaction.
In 2011, after the watchdog group Common Cause raised red flags, Thomas updated years of his financial disclosure reports to include employment details for his wife, conservative activist Virginia “Ginni” Thomas. The justice said at the time that he had not understood the filing instructions. In 2020, he was forced to revise his disclosure forms after a different watchdog group found he had failed to report reimbursements for trips to speak at two law schools.
A judicial ethics expert said the pattern was troubling.
“Any presumption in favor of Thomas’s integrity and commitment to comply with the law is gone. His assurances and promises cannot be trusted. Is there more? What’s the whole story? The nation needs to know,” said Stephen Gillers, a legal ethics expert at New York University.
Gillers said all three branches of government should investigate Thomas’s compliance or noncompliance with federal ethics law. “The Supreme Court has been the glue that has held the republic together since 1790 with the Civil War the only interruption. We need the public to respect it even when it disagrees with it and to understand why it is important. Generally, the public has,” he said. “But that respect is now in serious jeopardy, and others must do something to stop the free fall.”
Thomas did not respond to emailed questions sent through a court spokeswoman. His wife also did not respond to requests for comment.
Thomas’s income from the firm he describes as “Ginger, Ltd., Partnership” on the financial disclosure forms has grown substantially over the last decade, though the precise amounts are unknown because the forms require only that ranges be reported. In total, he has reported receiving between $270,000 to $750,000 from the firm since 2006, describing it as “rent.” Thomas’s salary as a justice this year is $285,000.
The company’s roots trace back to two lakeside neighborhoods developed decades ago by Ginni Thomas’s late parents in a community in Douglas County, just outside of Omaha.
Ginger Limited Partnership was created in 1982 to sell and lease real estate, state incorporation records show, and its partners were Ginni Thomas, her parents and her three siblings. The firm owned and leased out residential lots in two developments, Ginger Woods and Ginger Cove, collecting rent annually from each occupied plot of land, according to copies of lease agreements on file with the county.
When he was nominated to a federal appeals court in 1990, Thomas listed the firm in a financial statement as one of his wife’s assets — worth $15,000 at the time.
The firm was dissolved in March 2006. Around the same time, Ginger Holdings, LLC was created in Nebraska, according to state records, which list the same business address as the shuttered company and name Joanne K. Elliott, the sister of Ginni Thomas, as manager.
The same month, the leases for more than 200 residential lots in Ginger Woods and Ginger Cove were transferred from Ginger Limited Partnership to Ginger Holdings, LLC, property records in Douglas County show.
Reached by phone, Elliott referred questions about the two companies to Ginni Thomas.
“You could call her and she could answer anything that she wants you to know,” Elliott said before hanging up.
Ginni Thomas is not named in state incorporation records related to Ginger Holdings, LLC.
In his most recent disclosure, in 2021, Thomas estimated that his family’s interest in Ginger Limited Partnership, the defunct firm, was worth between $250,000 and $500,000. He reported receiving an income from it between $50,000 and $100,000 that year.
On Friday, congressional Democrats with oversight of federal courts cited Thomas’s “apparent pattern of noncompliance with disclosure requirements” in calling on the Judicial Conference — the policymaking body for the federal courts — to refer him to the attorney general for an investigation into whether he violated federal ethics laws.
In addition to the recent revelations about Thomas’s financial relationship with Harlan Crow, the Texas billionaire, they cited a period in the 2000s in which Thomas failed to disclose his wife’s employment as required by law until the omission was reported by the watchdog group Common Cause.
Ginni Thomas earned more than $686,000 from the conservative Heritage Foundation from 2003 until 2007, according to the nonprofit’s tax forms. Clarence Thomas checked a box labeled “none” for his wife’s income during that period. He had done the same in 2008 and 2009 when she worked for conservative Hillsdale College.
Thomas acknowledged the error when he amended those filings in 2011. He wrote that the information had been “inadvertently omitted due to a misunderstanding of the filing instructions.”
In some years before those omissions, however, Thomas had correctly reported his wife’s employment.
Thomas failed to report the sale of the three Georgia properties to Crow in 2014, and he also continued to report that he owned a share of those properties as late as 2015, his disclosure forms show. In addition, beginning in 2010, his disclosures described the properties as being located in Liberty County, Ga., even though they were actually located in Chatham County.
Thomas also did not report reimbursement for transportation, meals and lodging while teaching at the universities of Kansas and Georgia in 2018. After the omission was flagged by the nonprofit Fix the Court, Thomas amended his filing for that year. He also amended his 2017 filing, on which he had left off similar reimbursements while teaching at Creighton Law School, his wife’s alma mater.
Jonathan O’Connell and Alice Crites contributed to this report.