Judiciary Chair Rebukes Harlan Crow’s “Secrecy” About Justice Thomas

May 23, 2023

Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin (D-IL) on Tuesday blasted billionaire Republican donor Harlan Crow for not providing adequate details about his financial dealings with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

In a statement, Durbin said the Judiciary Committee had received a letter Monday from a firm representing Crow. It declined to answer written questions from the Senators, asserting that Congress “lacks authority” to move ahead on ethics legislation for the Supreme Court. 

“Harlan Crow believes the secrecy of his lavish gifts to Justice Thomas is more important than the reputation of the highest court of law in this land. He is wrong,” Durbin said. 

He added that the committee would “respond more fully to this letter in short order.”

Durbin and 10 other Democrats on the Judiciary Committee had sent a letter to Crow on May 9, asking for a full accounting of travel and other gifts he has made to Thomas or any other Supreme Court Justice.

That request, as well as a hearing on Supreme Court ethics—specifically about it being the only court in the U.S. to not adhere to a formal code of conduct—followed reporting in April from the non-profit organization ProPublica about Thomas accepting high-priced luxury vacations from Crow. One trip to Indonesia in 2009 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.

In responding to Crow’s brush-off, Durbin reiterated a warning he’s made previously: that if Chief Justice John Roberts does not act to institute a new ethics code for the Justices, then Congress will have no choice but to do so.

The admonishment and warning from the Judiciary Chair come after The Atlantic published an interview with Crow this week, in which Crow defended his dealings with Thomas.

“I don’t see the foot fault,” Crow said of his real estate purchases from the Justice. 

Crow further asserted that he would “never, nor would I ever, think about talking about matters that relate to the judiciary with Justice Clarence Thomas”—then he later clarified in a follow-up email: “It’s not like we haven’t talked about work-related issues,” but insisted those conversations had been casual.

The billionaire donor further told the Atlantic, “My hope is that this is the last conversation I have on this topic in public,”

Along with not disclosing the travel gifts or the real estate transactions—as required by law—Thomas also did not disclose that Crow paid paid tens of thousands of dollars for the Justice’s grandnephew to attend at least two high-priced schools.


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