-by Steven Berk
June 20, 2011- Sunday’s New York Times ran a front page story entitled the “Justice and the Magnate” about Associate United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ relationship with Harlan Crow, a Dallas-based Real Estate tycoon whose family was once the largest landlord in the United States. It seems that over the years Mr. Crow has been very generous with Justice Thomas and his family. Generous to the tune of millions of dollars. Most notably, Mr. Crow donated:
- $500,000 to a Tea Party-inspired foundation founded by Justice Thomas’ wife;
- $175,000 to a Savannah Georgia Library, honoring Justice Thomas; and
- $2 million and counting for a museum in Pin Point, Georgia, honoring the cannery in which Justice Thomas’ mother worked.
Crow also gave Justice Thomas:
- A $19,000 bible owned by Fredrick Douglass; and
- Free trips on Crow’s 161-foot yacht, private plane and 100-acre Adirondack Estate.
Where is the outrage? We are talking about a sitting Justice of the highest court in the land, accepting — directly or indirectly — millions of dollars in value from a leading partisan fund raiser. Mr. Crow (and this is just a snapshot) has given over $5 million to Republican Candidates, is a trustee of the Bush library and was a significant financial supporter of the swift boat campaign that helped elect George Bush.
We are in the era of 5-to-4 Supreme Court decisions. Justice Thomas is without question one of the most important members of our government. And lest you forget, he never needs to face an electorate; he enjoys a lifetime appointment. Time and again, decision after decision, the rights of millions rest with Justice Thomas.
In three recent 5-to-4 decisions, Justice Thomas sided with the Conservative judges and big business to allow unbridled corporate spending on political campaigns (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission), to prevent defrauded consumers from filing class-action suits against corporations (AT&T v. Concepcion), and to immunize mutual fund investment advisers from liability for misleading investors (Janus Capital Group v. First Derivative Traders).
All the more reason why he must carefully limit and monitor his own conduct. Thomas, like every other judge, must be beyond any and all suspicion. Judges owe it to all Americans to avoid any position in which a vote, or the logic and language of the majority opinion in a case, can be questioned.