Clarence Thomas Has a Luxury Benefactor

ProPublica suggests justice should be reporting exotic trips paid for by billionaire friend Harlan Crow
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 6, 2023 10:20 AM CDT
Clarence Thomas Has a Luxury Benefactor
In this 2012 photo, former President George W. Bush, left, is pictured with Harlan Crow.   (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Clarence Thomas has a very, very rich friend. This friend, billionaire real estate magnate Harlan Crow, has for two decades let the Supreme Court justice and his wife travel around the world to exotic locales at his expense, reports ProPublica. The story by Joshua Kaplan, Justin Elliott, and Alex Mierjeski notes that Thomas has never reported these vacation flights on financial disclosures, which "appears to violate a law passed after Watergate that requires justices, judges, members of Congress, and federal officials to disclose most gifts." The ethics law experts they interview also say Thomas should have reported his multiple trips on Crow's superyacht. However, the legalities are murky because the story also points out that the Supreme Court "is left almost entirely to police itself" on such matters. Regardless, "the extent and frequency of Crow's apparent gifts to Thomas have no known precedent in the modern history" of the court, per the story.

"When a justice's lifestyle is being subsidized by the rich and famous, it absolutely corrodes public trust," says Virginia Canter, a former government ethics lawyer who has served in the administrations of both parties. "Quite frankly, it makes my heart sink." Crow tells the outlet the two never discuss cases, and the story makes clear that Thomas has never ruled on a case in which Crow's company was involved. However, the court does hear cases that affect the real estate industry in general, and Thomas meets other prominent conservatives and business executives on the trips. The vacations—including one to Indonesia in 2019 that would have cost Thomas about $500,000 had he paid himself— appear to stand in contrast to comments the justice once made in a documentary (financed by Crow) about how he likes to travel. "I prefer the RV parks," he said. "I prefer the Walmart parking lots to the beaches and things like that. There's something normal to me about it. I come from regular stock, and I prefer that." (Read the full story.)

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