Senate Panel Asks Billionaire for Full Accounting of Supreme Court Gifts

May 9, 2023

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday sent a letter to billionaire Republican donor Harlan Crow asking for a full accounting of travel and other gifts he has made to Clarence Thomas or any other Supreme Court Justice.

The letter was signed by Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin (D-IL) and 10 other Democratic members of the committee. It asks Crow to provide an itemized list of gifts, lodging, transportation and real estate transactions that Crow may have provided. 

Last month, non-profit news outlet ProPublica broke the story of Thomas accepting high-priced luxury vacations from Crow—including one to Indonesia in 2009 that would have cost the Justice upwards of $500,000 if he’d footed the bill himself. Thomas failed to disclose these transactions. 

Since then, ProPublica has also revealed that Thomas failed to disclose a six-figure real estate transaction involving Crow that included the billionaire purchasing Thomas’ mother’s home, in which she continued to live. 

Last week, the news outlet further revealed that Crow had paid tens of thousands of dollars for Thomas’ grandnephew to attend at least two high-priced boarding schools.

Supreme Court Justices are required to disclose gifts of over $415, but the rules around gifts involving personal hospitality are less clear. The Court’s policymaking body, the Judicial Conference, changed its disclosure rules in March to require Justices and other federal judges to report more details about gifts. These rules would include free hotel stays at hotels or hunting lodges. They further clarify that travel such as private jet rides must also be disclosed.

During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to discuss the on Supreme Court ethics rules last week, Durbin singled out the luxury trips from Crow, stating that Thomas “has faced no apparent consequences under the Court’s ethics principles,” noting that the Justice had asserted the trips were exempt from disclosure because they were “personal hospitality.”

Going on to refer to the real estate deal between Crow and Thomas, Durbin posited, “How low can the Court go?” 

Meanwhile, three days after Chief Justice John Roberts “respectfully decline[d]” Durbin’s invitation to testify at the committee’s hearing, reporting revealed that a whistleblower from his wife’s law firm had signed an affidavit in December stating that Jane Roberts has made millions in commissions from elite law firms, and Roberts did not recuse when at least one of those firms had at least one case before the Supreme Court.

If Crow ignores the Judiciary Committee’s May 22 deadline to account for the information requested, it’s not clear what the Senate’s next move would be. With Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) still out on months-long medical leave, the committee is stuck in a tie between Democrats and Republicans, preventing Democrats from being able to vote to issue subpoenas until she returns. 

Even so, Durbin has expressed a reluctance to use Congress’ subpoena power, noting its rarity within the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

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