"Crow's interest in these cases is unambiguous, as is the depth of Thomas' relationship with his patron," said the head of the Revolving Door Project.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas on Monday recused himself from a decision—but the rare move from the embattled right-winger came as he weighed in on another case involving his billionaire benefactor, which outraged one watchdog group.
The high court declined to hear Community Housing Improvement Program (CHIP) v. City of New York, New York, a landlord-backed constitutional challenge to the massive city's longtime rent stabilization policies for about a million apartments.
"It is a travesty that Clarence Thomas failed to recuse himself in yet another case from which his right-wing donors could directly benefit," said Revolving Door Project executive director Jeff Hauser in a statement. "Justice Thomas' billionaire benefactor Harlan Crow has a vested interest in weakening rent control laws across the country to buttress his real estate empire's profits."
The Supreme Court in recent months has faced calls for new ethics rules, a U.S. Department of Justice probe, and Thomas' resignation in response to revelations about his relationship with Crow and other rich GOP donors. In addition to treating Thomas to luxury vacations, Crow bought his mother's house and contributed to the private school tuition for a great-nephew he raised.
"Justice Thomas' billionaire benefactor Harlan Crow has a vested interest in weakening rent control laws across the country to buttress his real estate empire's profits."
"Crow's industry lobbyist of choice, the National Multifamily Housing Council, filed an amicus brief urging the 2nd Circuit to take up the challenge to New York City's rent control law in 2021," Hauser noted. "While the NMHC did not file a brief for the case before the Supreme Court, there should be little doubt that Thomas and his clerks are aware of NMHC's, and therefore Crow's, interest in the case."
As The New York Timesreported Monday, "Other petitions asking the Supreme Court to rule on aspects of the regulations are pending, and the justices may yet agree to consider one or more of those cases."
Given that, "the threat from the Thomas-Crow relationship remains imminent," Hauser stressed. "We call on Thomas to immediately recuse himself from two additional challenges to New York City's rent control law relisted for the October 6th conference by the court: 74 Pinehurst LLC v. New York (22-1130) and 335-7 LLC v. City of New York. Crow's interest in these cases is unambiguous, as is the depth of Thomas' relationship with his patron Crow."
The recusal demand comes after the Revolving Door Project in July released a report on Crow's ties to the National Multifamily Housing Council, including that—as the group highlighted Monday—NMHC Chair Ken Valach is CEO of three subsidiaries of his company Crow Holdings.
Thomas and other members of the court have also recently faced calls to recuse themselves from other cases due to similar conflicts. For example, he and fellow right-wing Justice Samuel Alito are under pressure to not be involved in Consumer Financial Protection Bureau v. Community Financial Services Association of America, which they are set to hear arguments for on Tuesday.
As Common Dreamsreported earlier Monday, in response to concerns about that case, Stand Up America's Brett Edkins said that "Justices Thomas and Alito are shamelessly thumbing their noses at judicial ethics, living the high life on GOP billionaires' dime. While they bask in luxury, the court's conservative supermajority is ruthlessly stacking the deck in favor of the wealthy and powerful, while chipping away at the freedoms of everyday Americans."
Although Thomas' involvement in the court's decision to not hear the New York rent stabilization case was cause for concern, advocates in the city still cautiously welcomed the outcome—while recognizing the threats to the protections for renters loom.
"It's definitely positive news that CHIP was denied and we hope that the same will happen in the other two cases," Ed Josephson of the Legal Aid Society, co-counsel for tenant groups who joined all of the related suits, toldCity Limits.
"I think I'm optimistic that the other petitions will be denied," he said, "because all of them are contrary to long-standing precedent."