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The US Supreme Court: “Equal Justice Under Law.” Photo credit: dog97209 / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Why won’t people believe Harlan Crow and Clarence Thomas that everything is fine?

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What’s the point of buying yourself a Supreme Court justice if pesky senators can just keep peppering you with questions about it? That’s what billionaire Harlan Crow must be thinking right about now.

On Tuesday, in response to Crow’s continued refusal to provide details on the expensive gifts and lavish vacations he heaped on Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, the Senate Judiciary Committee issued a thinly veiled threat that they might subpoena him to get some answers.

It all started with a series of stories, the first one broken by ProPublica a couple of months ago, in which journalists revealed that the conservative justice has been on the receiving end of the billionaire’s largesse to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Thomas did not feel that it was necessary to disclose any of this.

Now, you may think it’s troubling that a billionaire is showering a Supreme Court justice with obscenely expensive luxuries — whether it’s because they are “close friends” or to grease the wheels of justice a bit — but don’t worry.

Both Thomas and Crow have said that this is totally fine, so it’s probably all on the up-and-up.

But do you know who won’t just accept the word of these two paragons of virtue? Senate Democrats.

They keep pestering Crow with questions about these gifts and even want the Supreme Court to put in place some ethics rules that would require justices to disclose when somebody hands them fistfuls of cash or equivalent gifts. The nerve, right?

In any case, last week, the billionaire’s lawyers told the Judiciary Committee to shove it, citing an issue with the “separation of powers.”

Next thing you know, these senators had the gall to inform Crow that he is not, in fact, a co-equal branch of government, and therefore the separation of powers does not apply to him. In defense of Crow’s attorney, who may not have been aware of this, it certainly seems as though billionaires are a branch of government these days, so maybe it was just an honest mistake.

The senators didn’t think so.

“Let’s be clear: Harlan Crow doesn’t call the shots here,” said Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) in a statement. “He is not a branch — nor even a member — of government and cannot claim the protections and privileges of one.”

Take that, billionaire!

The senators also called out Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, saying that he could “make a clean break from this sordid episode” by putting in some rules, and adding that “the highest court in the land shouldn’t have the lowest ethical standards.”

Guess what. Nobody tells the Supreme Court what to do, not even one of those co-equal branches of government.

Seeing how Roberts will be of no use, Durbin and Whitehouse then put Crow on notice that “all options are on the table” to get him to provide some answers.

If you are wondering, that probably doesn’t mean flying him to a tropical paradise on a private plane and hanging out with him on a luxurious yacht, paying for the private school of one of Crow’s family members, or engaging him in questionable real estate deals

Maybe it does, of course. After all, they said “all options.”

But it’s more likely that they are talking about a subpoena.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) would also love to have a chat with Crow, by subpoena, if necessary, as part of a review of “gift and estate tax practices of ultra-high net worth individuals.”

“Far too often, efforts to investigate real life tax practices of the ultra-wealthy and powerful end with this kind of vague, carefully-worded assurance that everything is on the level,” Wyden said Tuesday in response to the letter from Crow’s attorney. “That’s simply not good enough.”

Well, speak for yourself senator, because vague assurances that there is nothing to see here are certainly good enough for Crow, Thomas, and Roberts.


  • Klaus Marre

    Klaus Marre is a writer, editor, former congressional reporter, and director of the WhoWhatWhy Mentor Apprentice Program. Follow him on Twitter @KlausMarre.

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