Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is facing heavy criticism and calls for scrutiny after reports that he sold his childhood home to a GOP mega–donor and accepted lavish trips over the past two decades, without disclosing them.
The latest controversy surrounds Thomas‘ refusal to recuse himself from a 2004 appeals case, even though the company being sued was part of the real estate empire run by Harlan Crow, the GOP mega–donor who has showered Thomas with expensive vacations and his childhood home.
The Supreme Court‘s decision in the $25 million copyright claim brought by an architecture firm against Trammell Crow Residential Co., a development company that‘s part of the Crow family‘s real estate empire, ultimately benefitted Trammell Crow Residential.
Thomas has previously said that it was acceptable for him to accept gifts from Harlan Crow because the GOP mega–donor did not have “business before the court.” But now, some legal experts are questioning why Thomas did not recuse himself from the case, as it directly involved a close friend and donor.
“At the time of this case, Trammell Crow Residential operated completely independently of Crow Holdings with a separate management team and its own independent operations,” a spokesperson for Crow told Bloomberg. “Crow Holdings had a minority interest in the parties involved in this case and therefore no control of any of these entities. Neither Harlan Crow nor Crow Holdings had knowledge of or involvement in this case, and a search of Crow Holding‘s legal records reveals no involvement in this case. Harlan Crow has never discussed this or any other case with any justice.”
Stephen Gillers, a judicial ethics expert at New York University School of Law, said that Thomas should have been “hypervigilant to the prospect of a Crow interest showing up on the Court‘s docket,” given their friendship.
But Thomas did not respond to requests for comment, and there is currently no Supreme Court code of conduct for justices to follow. However, one legal ethics expert believes that Thomas‘ conduct could push the court to adopt a code of conduct, or at least use the code applied to other federal judges.
Many are now calling for an investigation into Thomas‘ conduct, as well as questioning why he did not recuse himself from the case. It remains to be seen what, if any, action Thomas or the Supreme Court will take in response to this controversy.