Apr 6, 2023 - Politics

Dallas billionaire Harlan Crow paid for justice's trips

A photo of Harlan Crow at Old Parkland

Harlan Crow at the Old Parkland offices. Photo: Chris Goodney/Bloomberg via Getty Images

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has accepted lavish trips from Dallas billionaire Harlan Crow for more than two decades, according to a new ProPublica investigation.

Driving the news: The justice has accepted luxury vacations from the real estate investor almost yearly without disclosing them, including flying on the Republican megadonor's private jet, staying on his superyacht and visiting his private resort in the Adirondacks, the nonprofit news organization reports.

Why it matters: Thomas' influence on the nation's top court has grown in recent years, and his acceptance of a billionaire's largesse breaks from the historical norms for justices.

  • Supreme Court justices largely police themselves but generally report all gifts worth more than $415, well below the cost of the trips Thomas accepted from Crow, per ProPublica.

Catch up fast: Crow is chairman of the board of Crow Holdings, which manages the Trammel Crow family money. He is known for his sprawling home with museum-quality art and historic pieces. And he renovated the Old Parkland hospital into an office campus housing many of Dallas' private equity and commercial real estate firms.

Details: Thomas has a $285,000 salary. He and his wife, conservative activist Ginni Thomas, traveled with the Crow family to Indonesia in 2019 and went island hopping on a superyacht for nine days in a trip that ProPublica estimates would've cost them more than $500,000.

  • Though Crow's political donations are well known and his friendship with the Thomases has been reported in the past, the extent of his generosity wasn't really known until the ProPublica report.
  • Thomas didn't respond to ProPublica's request for comment.

Meanwhile, Thomas presents himself as having a modest lifestyle.

  • "I prefer the RV parks. I prefer the Walmart parking lots to the beaches and things like that. There's something normal to me about it," Thomas said in a documentary interview, per ProPublica.

What they're saying: Crow called Thomas and his wife "dear friends" since 1996 in a written statement to ProPublica and said his family's generosity to the Thomases was not for political influence.

  • "We have never asked about a pending or lower court case, and Justice Thomas has never discussed one, and we have never sought to influence Justice Thomas on any legal or political issue," Crow wrote, adding that his friends haven't sought to lobby the judge.

What's next: U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said the Senate Judiciary Committee, which he chairs, "will act" on the report.

  • "The highest court in the land shouldn't have the lowest ethical standards," Durbin said.

Go deeper: Supreme Court ethics criticism grows louder

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