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The Dubious Friendship of Clarence Thomas and Harlan Crow

After U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas secured a financial favor that led to the preservation of an aging cannery site in the community of his birth in Georgia, legal ethicists are voicing concerns over his friendship with Harlan Crow, a Dallas real estate magnate and contributor to conservative causes.

Crow’s donation to what appears to be Justice Thomas’ pet project is cause for wonder over how the judge’s rulings might be influenced by his benefactor’s politics. Federal judges are required to adhere to a code of ethics that bars them from raising money for charitable causes for precisely that reason. But Supreme Court justices are not. Crow, who has donated almost $5 million to Republican campaigns and conservative groups, is a known contributor to Thomas’ political advocacy group, Liberty Central, which opposed President Obama’s health care legislation last year. –ARK

The New York Times:

In several instances, news reports of Mr. Crow’s largess provoked controversy and questions, adding fuel to a rising debate about Supreme Court ethics. But Mr. Crow’s financing of the museum, his largest such act of generosity, previously unreported, raises the sharpest questions yet — both about Justice Thomas’s extrajudicial activities and about the extent to which the justices should remain exempt from the code of conduct for federal judges.

Although the Supreme Court is not bound by the code, justices have said they adhere to it. Legal ethicists differed on whether Justice Thomas’s dealings with Mr. Crow pose a problem under the code. But they agreed that one facet of the relationship was both unusual and important in weighing any ethical implications: Justice Thomas’s role in Mr. Crow’s donation for the museum.

The code says judges “should not personally participate” in raising money for charitable endeavors, out of concern that donors might feel pressured to give or entitled to favorable treatment from the judge. In addition, judges are not even supposed to know who donates to projects honoring them.

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