Justice Thomas' head on a platter
The Thomases’ history of hobnobbing with a conservative billionaire might do him in, but it should be fairly obvious that Harlan Crow is not in Donald Trump’s hip pocket, or any pocket.
Justice Clarence Thomas is an odd bird. He almost became a priest. Now his history of hobnobbing with a conservative billionaire who has some eccentric taste in art might do him in.
An English Literature major, hardly the path for a political powerhouse planning a law career, it was MLK’s assassination that drove Thomas to apply to Yale Law through its brand-new open admissions program that allowed Black students to attend the lily-white elite school, and he became one of its first graduates. Yale these days is not so proud of that heritage.
That path led through the Republican Party, as Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in Reagan’s Department of Education in 1981, then as Chairman of the EEOC. Through those years, Thomas experienced crushing student loan debt, along with a debilitating functional alcoholism, which he later reversed. In just two years, Thomas went from the EEOC to George H.W. Bush’s nominee to the Supreme Court. The Anita Hill accusations of sexual harassment dogged his hearings but ultimately the FBI report was inconclusive and he was confirmed by the Senate.
At 74, Justice Thomas is the longest-serving current member of the Court by far—serving over 31 years—thirteen years longer than the next two senior Justices, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito.
Before Thomas ever became a judge, he ended his first marriage of thirteen years, and married Virginia “Ginni” Thomas. The two could not have been more different. Clarence was born to poor Black farmers in the unincorporated Chatham County town of Pin Point, Georgia, its Black Gullah roots tracing directly back to slaves taken from West Africa.
Ginni was raised by two Omaha Republicans, an engineer and a stay-at-home mother. AJC investigative reporter Ken Foskett’s 2004 biography of Thomas claimed Ginni’s high school ambition was to be elected to Congress. Her path took her through Creighton University with a degree in political science and business communication, then to a law degree at the same school. Ginni has spent her entire career fighting for whatever Republican hot-buttons she can push. And, oh yeah, Ginni is white.
While Clarence was serving on the Court, Ginni was working for the Heritage Foundation, then her own nonprofit lobbying organization, Liberty Central, and when it shut down in 2012, the for-profit Liberty Consulting. She has worked for and alongside familiar names like Tucker Carlson, Steve Bannon, and organizations like Turning Point USA. In 2016, Ginni was a Ted Cruz supporter, and when Donald Trump won the Republican nomination, she supported him.
The Thomases have always maintained that they have a curtain, a professional wall, between his work at the Court and her work as a political activist. But after the January 6th investigations revealed her text messages with Mark Meadows, and Trump’s “stolen election” team’s fondness for Justice Thomas as part of their legal fantasy, a fact supported by Thomas being the lone dissenter who would have granted Trump’s request to block the January 6th Select Committee from obtaining White House documents related to the event, that professional partition appeared to be quite weak, if it existed at all.
Clarence Thomas might have survived that scandal, because the Court historically and by long tradition looks after its own. But now, after the damaging leak of the Dobbs v. Jackson draft that overturned Roe v. Wade, which after months of internal investigations, the Court’s marshal failed to solve, the mood within the Supreme Court might not be as tight as it once was, and public approval is not good.
Enter Texas billionaire Harlan Crow.
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A year after Clarence and Ginni Thomas tied the knot in 1987, Crow started his career with the family real estate empire. He is a board member of the Supreme Court Historical Society and the American Enterprise Institute, according to a report by the Washington Post.
In 2006, Trammel Crow Co. was sold to real estate giant CBRE for around $2 billion. Harlan Crow has given a lot of money to various conservative causes and candidates.
According to Open Secrets, Crow gave $5,000 to support Laura Hill, the former mayor of Southlake, Texas, in a 2022 primary against newcomer Nate Schatzline in the 93rd state house district. Hill lost by 30 points to Schatzline, who focused his campaign on “cultural issues that have been at the fore of recent political battles, including critical race theory and what many consider graphic and inappropriate content about sexual issues in school texts and library books” according to The Texan. Schatzline won the seat.
In Texas 52nd house district, Crow gave $5,000 to attorney Nelson Jarrin, who was notably not endorsed by the NRA-ILA, and accused Jarrin’s campaign of “misrepresentation.” Jarrin’s practice focused on the areas of health care law and policy. Jarrin did not make it to the runoff in his election.
Crow has also given, in the past, to John Cornyn, and George W. Bush. In 2022, he gave $25,000 to George Prescott Bush in his race to unseat Ken Paxton as Texas Attorney General. Bush was crushed by 36 points. Paxton, as you might remember, penned an amicus brief supporting the return of Trump’s classified documents taken in the infamous FBI “raid” on Mar-a-Lago. Paxton also supported taking Trump’s election fraud claims to the Supreme Court on behalf of Texas against Wisconsin, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Paxton is a Trump guy; Bush is not. Crow gave to Bush.
It should be fairly obvious that Harlan Crow is not in Donald Trump’s hip pocket, shirt pocket, or any pocket. But Crow considers the Thomases “very dear friends,” whom he has known since 1996, according to WaPo.
The problem is that Crow has shown tremendous friendship and hospitality to the Thomases, including jetting them around in his private jet, hosting them at a “secretive Bohemian Club,” his superyacht, and Indonesian diving experiences. A deep dive by ProPublica mentioned interviews with Crow employees and associates. Obviously, over the years, these trips and luxuries would accrue to a large amount of money.
Federal judges sit in a unique position of public trust. They have lifetime tenure, a privilege intended to insulate them from the pressures and potential corruption of politics. A code of conduct for federal judges below the Supreme Court requires them to avoid even the “appearance of impropriety.” Members of the high court, Chief Justice John Roberts has written, “consult” that code for guidance. The Supreme Court is left almost entirely to police itself.
A very high horse pronouncement from ProPublica, followed by the quiet disclaimer, “[there] are few restrictions on what gifts justices can accept.” It’s also no secret that the Thomases were friends with Crow. The New York Times reported on it in 2011, as part of its exposé of Ginni Thomas’ political action groups and donors.
Now here’s where the ProPublica piece becomes a political hit job. Harlan Crow is not a Trump guy, though the article tries to make it seem so. They tie Crow’s Adirondack mountain resort in upstate New York to Mar-a-Lago because it was once the summer retreat for Marjorie Merriweather Post, the General Foods heiress who built Trump’s current home.
The article frames all the trips and meetings and dinners as ethical violations. And they might be. That’s up to the Supreme Court to decide.
But later reports on Twitter have tried to paint Harlan Crow as some kind of wild-eyed Nazi sympathizer or extremist cut from the same cloth as, say, Mike Lindell, the MyPillow guy.
That has raised the ire of people like Jonah Goldberg, who holds Crow as a friend and benefactor of AEI. AEI is no Trumpist fortress, and the likes of Goldberg and New York Times columnist David French have come to Crow’s aid.
Harlan Crow might be a “weird” guy, or at least, an eccentric billionaire prone to political statements made through art. A “garden of evil” is something I might not expect to see at a regular person’s home, but billionaires are a different category. But by his political friends, and more importantly, where his money has gone, and even more importantly, who is not his friend, he doesn’t seem to be a crackpot or a Trumpist.
But in this age of media and narrative, it might be too late to save Clarence Thomas. Ginni Thomas is a Trumpist, and by association, that taints Harlan Crow. And Harlan Crow’s money, his influence, and his political friends at AEI and other places could be slung with the same mud Ginni and Clarence Thomas have wallowed in.
I trust Jonah Goldberg’s judgment of character. I trust David French’s read of people and ability to discern cuckoos. I think, based on that plus my own research, that Harlan Crow has nothing to apologize for. But apologies won’t help in any case. The connection to the Thomases, regardless of how they might be based on common bonds of friendship going back more than 25 years, is going to sting.
Instead of crushing Crow, AEI, and everything they touch, it might end up being the merciful thing to see Clarence Thomas sing his swan song. And if the wagons circle and decide to fight for him, it might be the fight that ends with Thomas’s head on a platter. Because that’s what those with designs on remaking the Supreme Court into a liberal stronghold want. They’ve always wanted it. And now they may have it.
This could have been avoided with some basic disclosures Thomas stopped making the last time this came topic up:
The "garden of evil" stuff is a distraction from the very real concerns that need be addressed. The rules definitely need to change to avoid even the appearance of corruption: it should be noted that cases have been brought by AEI- should Thomas have recused himself in those due to receiving gifts from one of their board members?
The secret exchange of material value is what makes it corrupt.