Conservative billionaire donor Harlan Crow bought three properties belonging to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his family, in a land deal worth more than $100,000 that Thomas never reported, according to the non-profit investigative journalism organization ProPublica.
Citing state tax documents and property deeds, ProPublica reported that in 2014, one of Crow’s companies paid $133,363 for the Savannah, Georgia, home of Thomas’ mother, Leola Williams. The transaction also included two nearby vacant lots that belonged to Thomas’ family members. After the sale, Thomas’ mother continued to live in the home, which soon underwent tens of thousands of dollars in renovations.
The real estate deal sheds new light on Thomas’s decades-old relationship with Crow, a real estate magnate and longtime financier for conservative causes. That relationship and the material benefits Thomas received have fueled calls for an official ethics investigation.
ProPublica previously revealed that for decades, Thomas and his wife Ginni were given annual vacations and trips by Crow worth hundreds of thousands of dollars — including international cruises on Crow’s mega-yacht, private jet flights and stays at Crow’s invitation-only resort in the Adirondacks. But the 2014 real estate deal is the first public evidence of a direct financial transaction between the pair.
Federal officials, including Supreme Court justices, are required to disclose the details of most real estate transactions with a value of over $1,000. Thomas would not be required to report the purchase if the property were his or his spouse’s primary personal residence, but this stipulation does not apply to this purchase, which Thomas did not report.
Crow and his real estate development firm have, according to Pro Publica, had no cases before the high court since Thomas was seated on the bench in 1991. Ethics expert Virginia Canter, the chief legal counsel for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), said that whether or not Crow has any case befor the Supreme Court, “he is invested in hedge funds, private equity and other holdings. He’s a force behind AEI and the Federalist Society,” two conservative think tanks that especially in recent years have exerted sizeable influence on Republican federal judicial nominations, including those for the Supreme and appellate courts.
Canter called for a full accounting of all the gifts and transactions to which Mr. Crow and Thomas and his wife have been party. She pointed out that right now there is no clear arbiter and said it’s up to Chief Justice John Roberts to act. He alone, she said, is in position to address the issue and restore the public’s confidence in the fairness of the court.
Both Thomas and Crow have released statements downplaying the significance of the gifts; Thomas maintains that he was not required to disclose the trips. Crow responded to the latest disclosure with a statement to ProPublica saying that he had approached Thomas about the purchase with an eye on honoring his legacy.
“My intention is to one day create a public museum at the Thomas home dedicated to telling the story of our nation’s second black Supreme Court Justice,” the statement said. “Justice Thomas’s story represents the best of America.”
Thomas’ office did not respond to an Associated Press request for comment.
Matthew Mosk contributed to this report.