​Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) displays a copy of a painting featuring Harlan Crow (right), Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (second from right), and other right-wing figures during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on May 2, 2023.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) displays a copy of a painting featuring Harlan Crow (right), Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (second from right), and other right-wing figures during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on May 2, 2023.

(Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Billionaire Harlan Crow Also Bankrolled GOP Lawmakers Blocking SCOTUS Ethics Reform

A new analysis shows Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee have received more than $450,000 from the same GOP megadonor who has lavished Justice Clarence Thomas with undisclosed gifts.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday sent a letter asking Harlan Crow—the billionaire GOP megadonor who has secretly showered U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas with hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts since the mid-1990s—to provide a full accounting of his financial ties to Thomas and any other judges on the high court.

It comes as "no surprise" that none of the panel's nine Republicans signed the letter, Accountable.US declared Tuesday, because they have collectively accepted nearly half a million dollars in campaign cash from Crow since the turn of the century, as a new analysis from the watchdog group shows.

Last month, one day after ProPublica published its bombshell report on Crow's under-the-table funding of near-annual luxury vacations for Thomas—the first of what would become many revelations about the two men's financial relationship—Accountable.US calculated that the current Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee received $453,300 from Crow between 2001 and 2022. The group revised that figure up to $457,000 on Tuesday in light of a $3,700 donation Crow made to Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) earlier this year.

The following is a list of Crow's total contributions to the nine GOP lawmakers on the panel as well as their affiliated PACs and joint fundraising committees, in descending order:

  • Cornyn: $294,800
  • Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa): $46,600
  • Sen. Tom Cotton (Ark.): $23,900
  • Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas): $23,500
  • Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.): $20,600
  • Sen. Mike Lee (Utah): $19,500
  • Sen. Thom Tillis (N.C.): $13,400
  • Sen. John Kennedy (La.): $8,300
  • Sen. Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.): $6,400

"There should be bipartisan outrage about the undisclosed gifts and travel billionaire megadonor Harlan Crow has given Justice Thomas," Accountable.US president Kyle Herrig said last month. "Senate Judiciary Republicans should join their Democratic colleagues to act. However, their silence so far may be because they have received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Crow as well."

"The highest court in the land should have the highest ethical standards," he added. "When it doesn't, Congress should exert its oversight authority."

Not only have Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee with apparent conflicts of interest refused to join their Democratic colleagues in trying to establish enforceable ethics rules for the Supreme Court, but they have attempted to downplay the seriousness of the court's growing crisis of legitimacy.

Several of the panel's GOP members used last week's hearing on proposed Supreme Court ethics reforms—a hearing Chief Justice John Roberts refused to testify at despite mounting evidence of possible corruption involving Thomas and others, including Roberts himself as well as Justice Neil Gorsuch—as "an opportunity for political grandstanding and performative outrage," Accountable.US noted Tuesday.

"Cornyn claimed Congress did not have the authority to regulate the courts due to separation of powers—a claim that was disproven by an expert witness that testified at the hearing," Accountable.US pointed out. "Cruz claimed the hearing was not about judicial ethics, but instead, was an attempt to attack Justice Thomas for having rich friends."

Lee went so far as to say that "when this chapter of American history is written, those who attack Justice Thomas today will be justly dismissed as intolerant bigots."

Meanwhile, Graham, the ranking member, accused the left of trying to "delegitimize the court and cherry-pick examples to make a point." Echoing his right-wing ally, Grassley argued that recent revelations are part of a long-term effort to "cast doubt on certain judges and justices, all because the left is opposed to recent court rulings."

Kennedy, for his part, denounced "attacks on conservative justices" as "targeted" and "exaggerated" and dismissed proposed Supreme Court ethics rules as "unnecessary."

Two days after right-wing senators accused reform advocates of launching what Cruz called a "smear campaign" against Thomas, ProPublica revealed that Crow also paid tens of thousands of dollars for the jurist's grandnephew to attend a pair of elite private schools. This came after earlier exposés about Crow footing the bill for yacht trips, buying and remodeling Thomas' mother's home, and more.

Given the mounting evidence of potential connections between Crow's gifts, which Thomas sought to keep hidden, and Thomas' inclination to rule in ways favorable to his superrich benefactor, calls for the judge to resign or face impeachment are growing.

Not only does Crow have links to numerous right-wing groups involved in Supreme Court cases since Thomas was first confirmed to the bench in 1991, but his own real estate company, Crow Holdings, was directly implicated in a 2021 case before the court.

As The Lever reported last month, Thomas voted to end the Covid-era federal eviction moratorium after Crow Holdings called the lifesaving policy a threat to its "profit margins." Now, as a group of New York City landlords prepares to ask the high court to overturn local rent control laws condemned by Crow Holdings—a move that would endanger rent stabilization efforts nationwide—"there is no indication" Thomas would recuse himself, the outlet noted.

Moreover, as Common Dreams reported last week, an Americans for Tax Fairness analysis of campaign finance data shows that after Thomas provided a deciding vote in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case, the Crow family's average annual campaign contributions soared by 862%, from $163,241 before 2010 to $1.57 million since.

This massive increase, which is partly reflected in Crow's donations to Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, underscores how the 5-4 ruling that effectively legalized unlimited political spending has strengthened the wealthy's ability to shape electoral outcomes, further undermining U.S. democracy.

On Tuesday, The Leverargued that the main goal of Crow and other billionaires who provide gifts and outside money to members of the Supreme Court is not to obtain certain decisions in specific cases, given that the court's right-wing ideologues would likely rule conservatively anyway, but to prevent GOP appointees from becoming more liberal over time—a phenomenon that has occurred in the past.

Alluding to Monday's letter from Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), The Washington Post reported that "if Crow ignores the request for information by the committee's May 22 deadline, it's unclear what Durbin's next move would be."

The San Francisco Chronicle reported Tuesday that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is returning to Capitol Hill after an illness kept her away from the Senate since February. Feinstein's absence has left Durbin without a majority on the panel, enabling the GOP minority to impede action, but her return would open up options.

In an interview with CNN on Sunday, Durbin did not rule out the possibility of a subpoena, saying that "everything is on the table."

In addition to the implementation of robust ethics rules, progressives have called for other far-reaching changes to disempower the country's "rogue" Supreme Court justices, including expanding the court. Seats have been added seven times throughout U.S. history.

Polling data shows that public approval of the nation's chief judicial body has decreased sharply in the months since its reactionary supermajority eliminated the constitutional right to abortion care, among other harmful and unpopular decisions. According to a survey conducted last month, nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults no longer have confidence in the high court.

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