Supreme Chutzpah

From The New York Times:

[Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and Dallas real estate magnate and a major contributor to conservative causes, Harlan Crow] met in the mid-1990s, a few years after Justice Thomas joined the court. Since then, Mr. Crow has done many favors for the justice and his wife, Virginia, helping finance a Savannah library project dedicated to Justice Thomas, presenting him with a Bible that belonged to Frederick Douglass and reportedly providing $500,000 for Ms. Thomas to start a Tea Party-related group. They have also spent time together at gatherings of prominent Republicans and businesspeople at Mr. Crow’s Adirondacks estate and his camp in East Texas. In several instances, news reports of Mr. Crow’s largess provoked controversy and questions, adding fuel to a rising debate about Supreme Court ethics.

Original DVD cover

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.


Justice Thomas, through a Supreme Court spokeswoman, declined to respond to a detailed set of questions submitted by The New York Times. Mr. Crow also would not comment.

Supreme Court ethics have been under increasing scrutiny, largely because of the activities of Justice Thomas and Ms. Thomas, whose group, Liberty Central, opposed President Obama’s health care overhaul — an issue likely to wind up before the court.


In January, the liberal advocacy organization Common Cause asked the Justice Department to investigate whether Justices Thomas and Antonin Scalia should have recused themselves from last year’s Citizens United campaign finance case because they had attended a political retreat organized by the billionaire Koch brothers, who support groups that stood to benefit from the court’s decision.

A month later, more than 100 law professors asked Congress to extend to Supreme Court justices the ethics code that applies to other federal judges, and a bill addressing the issue was introduced.


Justice Stephen G. Breyer has attended Renaissance Weekend, a retreat for politicians, artists and media personalities that is a favorite of Democrats, including former President Bill Clinton. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg participated in a symposium sponsored by the National Organization for Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund, and a philanthropic foundation once tried to give her a $100,000 achievement award. She instructed that the money be given to charity.

But in the case of Justice Thomas and his dealings with Mr. Crow, the ethical complications appear more complex.

Mr. Crow, 61, manages the real estate and investment businesses founded by his late father, Trammell Crow, once the largest landlord in the United States. The Crow family portfolio is worth hundreds of millions of dollars and includes investments in hotels, medical facilities, public equities and hedge funds.

A friend of the Bush family, Mr. Crow is a trustee of the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation and has donated close to $5 million to Republican campaigns and conservative groups. Among his contributions were $100,000 to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the group formed to attack the Vietnam War record of Senator John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, and $500,000 to an organization that ran advertisements urging the confirmation of President George W. Bush’s nominees to the Supreme Court.

Mr. Crow has not personally been a party to Supreme Court litigation, but his companies have been involved in federal court cases, including four that went to the appellate level. And he has served on the boards of two conservative organizations involved in filing supporting briefs in cases before the Supreme Court. One of them, the American Enterprise Institute, with Mr. Crow as a trustee, gave Justice Thomas a bust of Lincoln valued at $15,000 and praised his jurisprudence at an awards gala in 2001.

The institute’s Project on Fair Representation later filed briefs in several cases, and in 2006 the project brought a lawsuit challenging federal voting rights laws, a case in which Justice Thomas filed a lone dissent, embracing the project’s arguments.


There are a number of reasons Justice Thomas might be thankful to Mr. Crow. In addition to giving him the Douglass Bible, valued 10 years ago at $19,000, Mr. Crow has hosted the justice aboard his private jet and his 161-foot yacht, at the exclusive Bohemian Grove retreat in California and at his grand Adirondacks summer estate called Topridge, a 105-acre spread that once belonged to Marjorie Merriweather Post, the cereal heiress.


Beyond the admonition against fund-raising, the code generally discourages judges from partaking in any off-the-bench behavior that could create even the perception of partiality. It acknowledges the value in judges’ being engaged with their communities, lecturing on the law and doing charitable work, but draws a line where those activities might cause a reasonable person to worry that a judge is indebted to or influenced by someone.

“The code of conduct is quite clear that judges are not supposed to be soliciting money for their pet projects or charities, period,” said Arn Pearson, a lawyer with Common Cause. “If any other federal judge was doing it, he could face disciplinary action.”


Filed under Antonin Scalia, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Chimpy, Clarence Thomas, Democrats, George W. Bush, humor, John Kerry, Justice Department, movies, parody, politics, Republicans, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, snark, Stephen Breyer, Supreme Court, Texas, Wordpress Political Blogs

26 responses to “Supreme Chutzpah

  1. Well, there goes a court for all people. An to think we rely on the Supreme Court for checks and balances.

  2. jeb

    Not only does Thomas appear to be supremely unqualified from the perspective of actually understanding the law and the constituition, he and his wife don’t even have the appearance of having the slightest bit of ethics and scruples. He will go down as possibly the worst Supreme Court Justice in history. And considering some of the losers on that court throughout the history of the republic, that’s quite a feat.

    • he and his wife are so friggin’ arrogant. that’s what really burns my ass. they honestly don’t think they owe any explanation to anyone. i totally agree that he will go down as the worst supreme ever.

  3. Thomas is coated in Teflon….like Rove, a turdblossom.

  4. jean-philippe

    Wow, this sets very nice standards for bribing a judge…

    Kellogg’s estate would have been good too…

    • i never heard of that movie before, but i googled, and i see it was filmed in the town where i went to college. i never would have known that was anthony hopkins if you hadn’t mentioned it, j-p.

      p.s. i bet clarence’s and ginni’s stools smell a lot worse than hot biscuits.

  5. John Erickson

    Marjorie Post is a cereal heiress? Was her father one of the generals that founded General Mills? 😉
    Not exactly the shining beacon of judicial discretion. One serious problem with the Supreme Court – the Justices serve for life. So much for a recall attempt. Far as I know, though, they aren’t immune from the IRS…..

    • Your comment caused me to do some digging.
      Yes a Supreme court justice can be impeached.

      Under normal circumstances, a Supreme Court justice is awarded a lifetime commission.

      A Supreme Court Justice may be impeached by the House of Representatives and removed from office if convicted in a Senate trial, but only for the same types of offenses that would trigger impeachment proceedings for any other government official under Articles I and II of the Constitution.

      >>> So if Congress could not impeach the shrub for his long long list of serious crimes, then I’m not holding my breath for congress to pull it together & kick Thomas’ ass off the high court.

      Historical reference:

      Only one Supreme Court Justice, Samuel Chase (one of the signatories to the Declaration of Independence), has ever been impeached. The House of Representatives accused Chase of letting his Federalist political leanings affect his rulings, and served him with eight articles of impeachment in late 1804. The Senate acquitted him of all charges in 1805, establishing the right of the judiciary to independent opinion. Chase continued on the Court until his death in June 1811.

      * So apparently congress was even pansy assed back in the 1800’s as well!

      Read more:

      • John Erickson

        Wow – I didn’t know about that whole impeachment process. Not that I’m going to hold my breath, mind you, Thanks, Fran, for educating me. I appreciate your time and effort!

    • you never heard of post cereals? they make the best raisin bran (though i don’t eat it anymore, because it has high fructose corn syrup).

      i wonder how a recall would go. could the judge being recalled sue? if the case gets to the supreme court, would he have to recuse himself?

      • John Erickson

        Of course I know about Post cereals, Nonnie. I was just trying to torque you a little bit. Obviously, a hideously flawed attempt, But hey, that’s my “machine gun” humour. If you fire off enough rounds, you’re bound to hit occasionally, but you’ll also get a lot of duds!

        • keep in mind that i usually answer when everyone else in the world is fast asleep. i shouldn’t blog when i’m tired. but i’m always tired lately!

  6. Only in America– No code of ethics for the justices in the highest court of the land?

    Well, I guess we have low road Clarence Thomas to thank for bringing that topic into the forefront.

    Thomas receives an annual salary of $213,900.00

    So he alone makes 4.27 times more than the average US family income of $50K.
    Besides whatever the wife makes.

    Greedy bastard!

  7. Isn’t he a piece of work. The worst I can remember in my lifetime. Too bad the dems can’t do an Abe Fortis number on him. That worked so well because people are scared shitless of gopers coming after them in their time tested bully way. He would certainly be the poster child for “bought negro”.

    • It’s not can’t so much as won’t. Bloody mindedness is more of a Republican trait, not a Democratic one, which is why presidential impeachments have only been successfully done by Republicans against Democrats (note that I didn’t say convictions; we’ve never had one of those). Besides, would you really want Tricky Dick as a role model for Obama? Lyndon Johnson, maybe, but Nixon? No.

      • if clarence thomas was to be impeached, it would have to start as a grass-roots effort, and the response would have to be so overwhelming that congress couldn’t ignore it. in other words, unless he’s found with a dead body in the trunk of his car, it ain’t happenin’.

  8. But rejoice in the good news. Keith is back and Trammel Crow is dead! (how’s the money thing working for you now Trammel??)

    • keith’s show was good, though i could have done without his guests. i don’t find either one very impressive or compelling (don’t tell anyone at the big orange!).

      the thomases are both something else. they have no shame whatsoever. they think they’re above everyone else–clarence with his arrogance and his wife with her religious fervor. i suppose that the staff of the new york times should expect nasty messages on their answering machines in about 20 years or so.