- WASHINGTON POST
GOP Donor Paid Private School Tuition for Justice Thomas’s Grandnephew, Report Says
13:00 JST, May 5, 2023
The same Texas billionaire who treated Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to lavish vacations paid private boarding school tuition for Thomas’s grandnephew, a boy the justice has said he raised as a son, according to a new report that said Thomas did not disclose the payments.
ProPublica reported that Harlan Crow, a prominent Republican donor, paid tuition at Hidden Lake Academy, a boarding school in Georgia, as well as at Randolph-Macon Academy in Virginia, for Mark Martin. Thomas had legal custody of the boy.
The publication cited a bank statement that showed Crow paid $6,200 in monthly tuition at Hidden Lake Academy in July 2009. Christopher Grimwood, a former administrator at the school, was quoted as saying that Crow “picked up the tab” for the entire time Martin was a student there, about a year. Grimwood also told ProPublica that Crow told him that he paid tuition as well for Martin at Randolph-Macon Academy, which Martin attended both before and after his time at Hidden Lake Academy.
ProPublica said the exact total Crow paid for Martin’s education remains unclear. But if he paid for all four years at the two schools, the cost could have exceeded $150,000, based on public records of tuition rates at the schools, the publication reported.
ProPublica said Thomas did not respond to questions about the tuition arrangement. Thomas did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday from The Washington Post. Neither Thomas nor the court’s public information office has responded to previous questions about Crow’s spending.
In a previous statement following a ProPublica report on Crow paying for his vacations, Thomas said he and his wife considered Crow and his wife to be “among our dearest friends” and that he had been advised he did not have to disclose the couple’s hospitality, which included travel on a private jet and yacht.
In a statement Thursday, Mark Paoletta, a friend of Thomas, said that Crow’s assistance was limited to two years, one at Randolph Macon, Crow’s alma mater, and one at Hidden Lake Academy.
Paoletta said the funds went directly to the school and that Thomas was not required to disclose them because the definition of a “dependent child” in the Ethics in Government Act does not include a grandnephew.
“Justice Thomas and his wife devoted twelve years of their lives to taking in and caring for a beloved child – who was not their own – just as Justice Thomas’s grandparents had done for him,” Paoletta said. “They made many personal and financial sacrifices to do this. And along the way, their friends joined them in doing everything possible to give this child a future.”
Crow’s office issued a statement in which it did not dispute that Crow paid for Martin’s education.
“Harlan Crow has long been passionate about the importance of quality education and giving back to those less fortunate, especially at-risk youth,” the statement said. “As part of his desire to perpetuate the American Dream for all, and believing education is the great equalizer, he and his wife have supported many young Americans through scholarship and other programs at a variety of schools.”
“It’s disappointing that those with partisan political interests would try to turn helping at-risk youth with tuition assistance into something nefarious or political,” the statement said.
Democrats are pushing for greater transparency from the Supreme Court and calling on the justices to set stronger rules for reporting and acting on potential conflicts of interest.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement that latest report “continues a steady stream of revelations calling Justices’ ethics standards and practices into question,” and he added, “I hope that the Chief Justice understands that something must be done – the reputation and credibility of the Court is at stake.”
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who has been among those calling for an enforceable ethics code, seized on the new report in a tweet.
“When does the stench get bad enough that SCOTUS stops the coverup and ends the mischief?” he asked. “This is on the Chief Justice to solve, plain and simple. . . . Any other government employee would be fired.”
Based on earlier reporting, some Democrats had called for Thomas to resign, and those calls continued Thursday.
“Clarence Thomas is corrupt as hell and the corruption at the republican Supreme Court stinks to high heaven,” Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.) said in a tweet calling on Thomas to step down.
Many Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), have sought to play down reporting on Thomas’s ethical issues, characterizing it as an attack on a conservative-leaning court.
On Thursday, the account of the House Judiciary Republicans suggested in a tweet with a goat emoji that Thomas is “the greatest of all time” – and asked those who agree to retweet the message. The panel’s chairman, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), was among those who did.
Federal ethics law requires top officials from all three branches of government, including Supreme Court justices, to file annual financial disclosure forms listing outside income and investments. A separate judicial code of conduct directs lower-court judges to avoid “the appearance of impropriety in all activities.” In addition, a federal law allows for the filing and investigation of misconduct complaints against lower-court judges.
The nine justices do not have such a code, though court transparency advocates and some lawmakers have long pressed the high court to adopt one. The justices have discussed but failed to reach consensus on a binding policy, The Washington Post reported this year, despite talks dating to at least 2019.
In addition to Crow paying for vacations for Thomas, ProPublica has previously reported that he purchased three properties in Savannah, Ga., from Thomas in 2014, including the single-story house where Thomas’s mother was living and two vacant lots nearby.
Thomas did not disclose the $133,363 real estate transaction on his financial disclosure forms. Crow told ProPublica that he wanted to preserve the first property as a museum dedicated to Thomas in the future, and he said he had spent tens of thousands of dollars on improvements to the house “to preserve its long-term viability.”
Thomas has not spoken publicly about the purchase.
Allegations from congressional Democrats that Thomas probably violated federal ethics laws in his dealings with Crow have been sent to the Judicial Conference of the United States to investigate. The Judicial Conference is a committee of federal judges responsible for “addressing allegations of errors or omissions in the filing of financial disclosure reports.”
Justice Neil M. Gorsuch has also come under scrutiny following a Politico report that he did not disclose that the chairman of a major law firm in 2017 bought a Colorado property in which the justice held an interest.
The latest report comes just days after a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Supreme Court ethics in which even some Republican senators suggested that the justices should be paying attention to public calls for a more robust and clear code of conduct. Durbin had invited Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. to testify, an invitation he turned down.
In an interview Thursday, Durbin said he was uncertain whether his committee would soon vote on legislation pushing the court to adopt an ethics code given the continuing absence of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who is recovering from shingles in California. Without Feinstein, the committee would need Republican support to advance such legislation.
“It’s very difficult to chart a course for an evenly divided committee in those circumstances,” Durbin said.
But he also declined to commit to pushing for that legislation even if Feinstein returns, saying Roberts should take that action on this own.
“It’s his court. It’s his legacy,” Durbin said. “And right now, it’s his challenge to see if he’ll put the most basic change in place and say that Supreme Court justices are subject to the same rules and guidelines as every other federal judge.”
Durbin also said he did not plan to ask Crow to testify in front of the committee, given he believed that he would refuse to appear, and also had no plans to subpoena him.
“To issue a subpoena is rare in the Judiciary Committee, number one,” he explained. “To do it you need a majority vote. We don’t have one.”
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