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- Clarence Thomas previously said his friend Harlan Crow had no business before the court.
- But a case involving Trammell Crow Residential made its way to the Supreme Court in 2005, per Bloomberg.
- Thomas didn’t recuse himself at the time, per the report.
Justice Clarence Thomas didn’t recuse himself from a 2004 appeals case, even though the company being sued was part of the real estate empire run by Harlan Crow, the GOP mega-donor who has showered Thomas with lavish trips starting in 1997 and more recently bought Thomas’ childhood home, according to Bloomberg.
Thomas previously told Bloomberg that it was OK for him to accept gifts from Harlan Crow because the GOP mega-donor did not have “business before the court.”
But the 2004 appeal ties the Crow family name to a case that did come before the Supreme Court: In January 2005, the court denied the appeal petition, a $25 million copyright claim brought by an architecture firm against Trammell Crow Residential Co., a development company that’s part of the real estate empire built by Crow’s father. The Supreme Court’s decision ultimately benefitted Trammell Crow Residential.
Thomas is facing heavy scrutiny following a series of ProPublica reports earlier this month that said he sold his childhood home to Crow and didn’t disclose the sale, and that he’s been accepting pricey vacations from Crow — without disclosing them — for over 20 years.
Crow’s office did not respond to Insider’s request for comment, but in a statement to Bloomberg, a spokesperson noted that Crow Holdings — the company that manages the Crow family capital and which Harlan Crow was the CEO of at the time of the appeal — operated independently of Trammell Crow Residential, its multifamily development platform.
Harlan Crow was CEO of Crow Holdings from 1988 to 2017, and remains chair of its board, per Bloomberg and The Real Deal.
“At the time of this case, Trammell Crow Residential operated completely independently of Crow Holdings with a separate management team and its own independent operations,” the statement to Bloomberg said. “Crow Holdings had a minority interest in the parties involved in this case and therefore no control of any of these entities. Neither Harlan Crow nor Crow Holdings had knowledge of or involvement in this case, and a search of Crow Holding’s legal records reveals no involvement in this case. Harlan Crow has never discussed this or any other case with any justice.”
Thomas did not respond to Insider’s request for comment via the Supreme Court’s media email address.
It’s not known whether Thomas would have made the connection between Trammell Crow Residential and Harlan Crow, who, at the time, had already begun to give Thomas gifts and trips, according to a 2004 Los Angeles Times report.
But Thomas should have been “hypervigilant to the prospect of a Crow interest showing up on the Court’s docket,” given their friendship, Stephen Gillers, a judicial ethics expert at New York University School of Law, told Bloomberg.
The case, however, wouldn’t have violated any Supreme Court code of conduct — there is no such thing. Justices are obliged to recuse themselves from cases directly involving a family member, or if they stand to be impacted financially by the outcome, per Bloomberg.
But one legal ethics expert previously told Insider that Thomas’ recently-unearthed conduct could push the court to adopt a code of conduct, or at least use the code applied to other federal judges.
“I think it’s quite likely we get some movement in one of those ways,” Clare Pastore, a professor of the practice of law at USC Gould School of Law, told Insider. “That would be a good step in the right direction.”