Should Any GOP Megadonors Wish To Ply An ATL Columnist With Luxury Travel, See Email Below
Clarence Thomas is arguably the most consistently, and radically, conservative justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. He sides with the Supreme Court conservative majority almost all of the time. In an average year (he's been serving since 1991, the longest of any of the current justices) Thomas is the justice most likely to author solo dissents, some of them expressing baffling, or even frightening, views. He is married to Ginni Thomas, a longtime professional right-wing activist and January 6 participant (she claimed she went home before the Capitol was breached).
There are a lot of reasons not to be particularly thrilled about Thomas existing as one of nine unelected lawyers who decides many important things about the lives of every person in America. Yet there seems to be no bottom to the pit of despair that is the tenure of Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court. Last week nonprofit newsroom ProPublica released an expose detailing how Thomas has received, and failed to disclose, decades of luxurious travel at no charge from billionaire Republican megadonor Harlan Crow.
In 2019, Thomas and his wife took a private jet owned by Crow to Indonesia, where they boarded a 162-foot yacht owned by Crow, to go island hopping for nine days while being doted over by attendants and a private chef. This would have cost anyone else something in the neighborhood of $500,000, but for Clarence and Ginni Thomas, friendship with Crow was enough.
There have also been repeated trips to Crow's private resort in the Adirondacks, which features three boathouses, more than 25 fireplaces, a clay tennis court, and a life-size replica of the house Hagrid lives in in the Harry Potter films. There were other luxury getaways to a sprawling East Texas ranch owned by Crow and to an exclusive all-male retreat at California's Bohemian Grove.
Crow claims that these trips are simply gatherings of friends and that he never sought to influence Thomas or to discuss any particular case or issue. Even if this were true, it would not be difficult to ascertain Crow's political leanings: he has handed out more than $10 million in publicly disclosed political contributions, including $500,000 to a Tea Party group founded by Ginni Thomas that was paying her a six-figure salary. Crow has also given to groups that do not disclose the identity of their donors, and there is no way of knowing how much of this dark money he's given away or to whom. Crow and Thomas did not meet until after the latter had become a justice.
Thomas hasn't said much in the wake of these revelations, but did issue a statement claiming "colleagues and others in the judiciary" told him his relationship with Crow was fine and that he was under no obligation to disclosure the many decades of gratis luxury travel. Experts in legal ethics question who these supposed colleagues were and whether anyone in the judiciary would actually have given such awful and clearly wrong advice.
Although the ethical obligations of Supreme Court Justices are notoriously lax and ill-defined compared to those of lower court judges and to those of members of other branches of the government, disclosure of gifts at this level would seemingly be the bare minimum. It is required by law. Thomas has previously disclosed some lavish items of value he's been given by Crow, such as a $19,000 Bible that once belonged to Frederick Douglass.
What's going to happen to Thomas? Well, nothing. Removing a member of the Supreme Court would require a consensus among a majority of House members, and Republicans in control of that chamber are not going to risk their pet Supreme Court losing its ability to take away Americans' reproductive rights and whatnot.
This all has me thinking though: if a member of the nation's highest court can take what looks an awfully lot like bribes -- or rewards for making the right political decisions if that goes down easier -- why can't an Above the Law columnist? In theory I'm bound by even less-stringent ethical standards.
So, c'mon Crow. I'm sure I'd like Indonesia, I'm a fun hang. If you want to see an ATL column titled "Harlan Crow Is The Greatest, What A Hero," I assure you, I am not that hard to get in contact with.
Jonathan Wolf is a civil litigator and author of Your Debt-Free JD (affiliate link). He has taught legal writing, written for a wide variety of publications, and made it both his business and his pleasure to be financially and scientifically literate. Any views he expresses are probably pure gold, but are nonetheless solely his own and should not be attributed to any organization with which he is affiliated. He wouldn't want to share the credit anyway. He can be reached at [email protected].