Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is stuck in a “tangled web” of ethics concerns that “just gets worse,” according to one leading Democrat on Sunday.
Over the past several weeks, Thomas has become embroiled in a scandal concerning his longtime relationship with Harlan Crow, a businessman and major donor to conservative political causes. The initial reports from ProPublica found that Crow had taken the justice and his wife, Ginni Thomas, on luxury vacations and given him numerous gifts, none of which the justice officially disclosed. In his defense, Thomas said that Crow was simply a close friend and that he had been advised early on that his gifts did not need to be disclosed, points which experts and critics have disputed.
“Harlan and Kathy Crow are among our dearest friends, and we have been friends for over twenty-five years,” the justice said in a statement previously obtained by Newsweek. “As friends do, we have joined them on a number of family trips during the more than quarter century we have known them. Early in my tenure at the Court, I sought guidance from my colleagues and others in the judiciary, and was advised that this sort of personal hospitality from close personal friends, who did not have business before the Court, was not reportable.”
Subsequent reporting has continued to turn up evidence of a financial relationship between Thomas and Crow, including the businessman buying a house and letting the justice’s mother live in it rent-free, and paying boarding tuition for the justice’s grandnephew. The laundry list of reports has raised significant concerns for many that Crow was working to influence Thomas’ decisions on the Court.
During an appearance on CNN‘s State of the Union, Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the majority whip and second-most powerful Democrat in the Senate, decried Thomas’ relationship with Crow as “a tangled web.”
“This tangled web around Justice Clarence Thomas just gets worse and worse by the day,” Durbin said. “I don’t know what’s going to come up next. I thought I’d heard it all, but more disclosures about his activities — it just embarrasses me. The question is whether it embarrasses the Supreme Court and the chief justice. Chief Justice [John] Roberts has the power in his hands to change this first thing tomorrow morning.”
Durbin added that Roberts ought to introduce “a code of conduct for the Court” that would hold the justices “to at least the minimum standards that apply to all other federal judges.” The senator said that “history is going to judge [Roberts] by the decision he makes on this.”
Meanwhile, Durbin’s comment drew criticism from senior CNN legal analyst and writer, Ronald Brownstein, who accused him of “ducking” the responsibility of holding the Supreme Court to account.
“Sometime after [former President George] W. Bush said only history could judge him on Iraq, [former President] Bill Clinton told me history won’t remember almost any of us (even presidents),” Brownstein wrote Sunday morning. “The responsibility of judging & responding to a [leader’s] actions, Clinton said, belonged to contemporaries. Durbin’s ducking that job.”
Sometime after W. Bush said only history could judge him on Iraq, Bill Clinton told me history won’t remember almost any of us (even presidents). The responsibility of judging & responding to a leaders’ actions, Clinton said, belonged to contemporaries. Durbin’s ducking that job. https://t.co/HtkbaPE7zC
— Ronald Brownstein (@RonBrownstein) May 7, 2023
Newsweek reached out to the Supreme Court press office via email for comment.
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