Sunday, September 24, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Sunday, September 24, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

New ethics report on Thomas says justice failed to disclose property sale to GOP megadonor

The same Texas billionaire who lavished the conservative justice with luxury trips for over two decades paid Clarence Thomas substantially above market to acquire real estate from him in Georgia. 

WASHINGTON (CN) — Justice Clarence Thomas spent the last decade ignoring his duty to disclose that he made a six-figure property sale to Republican megadonor Harlan Crow, according to new reporting Thursday that compounds calls for the conservative justice to face an ethics inquiry. 

In the early 2000s, Thomas valued his stake in three Savannah, Georgia, properties at $15,000 or less. Thomas co-owned the rental properties with his mother and brother. As ProPublica revealed Thursday, however, Crow wound up spending $133,363 to buy those properties — two of which were vacant lots — from Thomas, his mother and his brother. A year earlier, Crow had paid substantially less to purchase two other properties on the same block: $40,000 for a small house and a vacant lot. 

Federal disclosure law would have required Thomas to disclose details of the sale as it exceeded $1,000 but Thomas never did. 

“It's just so out of the realm of what can be excused ethically,” Gabe Roth, executive director of Fix the Court, said in a phone call. 

Roth said Thomas’ disclosures needed to be investigated for any other discrepancies. 

“I think we’ve sort of reached the tipping point where we need some sort of investigation by the AG here to just figure out what all the facts are, and if there are other things that have been missing from the disclosures or the statements,” Roth said. 

The new reporting comes on the heels of a scandal involving Thomas’ failure to disclose trips from Crow, a Texas-based billionaire. 

“This appears to me to be more outrageous than the trips,” Lawrence Gostin, faculty director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law and Georgetown Law, said in an email. 

Thomas and Crow met after the conservative justice was already seated on the high court bench. Besides footing the bill for Thomas’ vacations going back more than two decades, Crow also contributed $500,000 to the lobbying group of Ginni Thomas, the justice’s wife. 

“This kind of cozy relationship with a rich benefactor and undisclosed transactions is so unethical and unlawful that I do not see how the Chief Justice could tolerate it,” Gostin wrote. “The public demands accountability from a sitting Supreme Court justice who wields such major power over national policy and law.” 

Following accusations that he might have broken the law by failing to disclose hundreds of thousands of dollars in luxury vacations from Crow, Thomas released a rare statement maintaining his belief that he correctly followed disclosure laws. The Supreme Court did not respond to a request for comment on the new allegations. 

It’s not clear what happened with the sites Crow bought in 2013. He told ProPublica he wants to create a public museum commemorating Thomas at his childhood home and that he bought the Thomas family's properties to preserve them for history.

Thomas’ mother was living in one of the properties when Crow made the purchase. After buying the home, Crow reportedly began renovations totaling $36,000. Crow’s company also began paying the property taxes on Thomas’ mother's house that were previously covered by the justice and his wife. 

Follow @KelseyReichmann
Categories / Courts, Law, Politics

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.