Senate Panel Ends Harlan Crow Probe After Clarence Thomas Trips Emerge

 June 13, 2024

In a surprising turn of events, the Senate Judiciary Committee has halted its investigation into businessman Harlan Crow following revelations of additional undisclosed trips by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

The Washington Examiner reported that the inquiry into Harlan Crow was initiated by the Senate Judiciary Committee as part of a broader ethics investigation into the Supreme Court, sparked by a ProPublica report detailing lavish gifts received by Justice Clarence Thomas from Crow. Crow, a Texas real estate magnate and GOP donor has been a long-time friend of Justice Thomas.

The connection between their shared travels and the gifts raised concerns about potential ethical breaches.

In November, through a subpoena, the committee obtained crucial documents from Crow that detailed trips taken by Justice Clarence Thomas that were not previously disclosed in his financial statements. These documents revealed that Thomas had traveled with Crow privately in the years 2017, 2019, and 2021.

Shortly before these revelations went public, Thomas amended his 2019 financial disclosure report to include trips that had been “inadvertently omitted,” citing destinations like Bali, Indonesia, and Monte Rio, California. However, these amendments came just a week before the discovery, casting a shadow of doubt on the timing of the disclosure.

Senate Judiciary Committee Forms A Deal With Crow

In response to the committee’s findings, a negotiation was struck with Crow. He agreed to provide seven years' worth of detailed information regarding his interactions and travels with Justice Thomas. In return, the Senate Judiciary Committee agreed to cease its probe concerning Crow.

"Despite his serious and continued concerns about the legality and necessity of the inquiry, Mr. Crow engaged in good faith negotiations with the Committee from the beginning to resolve the matter," stated a spokesman from Crow's office.

The documentation provided by Crow led the committee to understand the depth and frequency of the undisclosed trips. Senator Dick Durbin, chair of the Judiciary Committee, emphasized the importance of transparency and accountability, stating, “As a result of our investigation and subpoena authorization, we are providing the American public greater clarity on the extent of ethical lapses by Supreme Court justices and the need for ethics reform.”

This event has fueled ongoing discussions about the necessity of a binding, enforceable code of ethics for Supreme Court justices.

Currently, the U.S. Supreme Court consults an ethics code developed last year, but enforcement remains a significant concern.

Representative Ayanna Pressley voiced strong opinions on the matter, advocating for an expansion of the court to ensure "balance and fairness," and stressing the need for a legally binding ethical framework. “We need a binding, enforceable code of ethics to ensure accountability,” Pressley stated. She also called for investigations into other justices with potential records of impropriety.

These remarks came amidst resistance from conservative judicial activist Leonard Leo, who fought against a subpoena from the committee.

The investigation, according to the Judicial Conference, adheres to oversight and accountability mechanisms established for the judiciary.

Chief Justice John Roberts recently declined a request for a private meeting to discuss these ethical concerns with Senators Durbin and Whitehouse. Durbin warned that if no action is taken to enforce an ethics code, legislative measures might be pursued to impose new ethical and financial rules on Supreme Court justices.

The Ongoing Ethics Debate Surrounds The Supreme Court

The disclosure issues and subsequent amendments by Justice Thomas have painted a grim picture of the Supreme Court's self-regulatory framework. Thomas himself has publicly expressed disdain for the scrutiny, referring to it as a “hideous place” filled with “nastiness and lies.”

As the debate over ethics at the Supreme Court continues, the recent developments involving Crow and Justice Thomas bring to light significant challenges facing the nation’s highest court. The Senate's actions reflect a growing concern over the impartiality and integrity of judicial conduct, a cornerstone of democratic governance.

In conclusion, the Senate Judiciary Committee's decision to conclude its investigation into Harlan Crow marks a pivotal moment in the ongoing discussion about judicial ethics. The disclosure of additional trips involving Justice Thomas, alongside the broader dialogue about court expansion and ethical codes, underscores the complexities of maintaining judicial propriety in the nation's highest legal echelons.

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