Clarence Thomas took another undisclosed $100,000 gift
Also a set of tires, for some reason?
All kinds of questions remain, but the one I’m most curious about is: Does Harlan Crow claim Clarence Thomas as a dependent on his taxes? And how does Thomas fill out his 1040?
That’s a joke. But also it isn’t. I’ll come back to that in a minute.
First, here’s the tuition news that broke this morning, courtesy of Pro Publica:
In 2008, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas decided to send his teenage grandnephew to Hidden Lake Academy, a private boarding school in the foothills of northern Georgia. The boy, Mark Martin, was far from home. For the previous decade, he had lived with the justice and his wife in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. Thomas had taken legal custody of Martin when he was 6 years old and had recently told an interviewer he was “raising him as a son.”
Tuition at the boarding school ran more than $6,000 a month. But Thomas did not cover the bill. A bank statement for the school from July 2009, buried in unrelated court filings, shows the source of Martin’s tuition payment for that month: the company of billionaire real estate magnate Harlan Crow.
All told, it seems Crow spent about $100,000 paying tuition costs that would otherwise have been paid by Clarence Thomas. Thomas didn’t disclose a nickel of it — even though he had previously disclosed a separate $5,000 “Education gift to Mark Martin,” indicating that he know full well such gifts must be disclosed.1
But don’t worry, Thomas’s pal Mark Paoletta says this is totally fine: “This malicious story shows nothing except for the fact that the Thomases and the Crows are kind, generous, and loving people who tried to help this young man.” Paoletta didn’t mention this in his nine-paragraph tweet,2 but he has represented Ginni Thomas in matters relating to her efforts to overturn the 2020 election.3
Legal experts not on Thomas’s payroll see Thomas’s behavior differently:
As the legal guardian of the child, Justice Thomas had assumed responsibility for his education, enrolled him in private school and otherwise would have had to pay tuition.
“There is no ambiguity here,” said Kathleen Clark, an ethics law expert at Washington University in St. Louis.
“He paid the tuition, which was a gift to Thomas because it helped Thomas financially fulfill his responsibility as guardian,” she added.
Richard Painter, a University of Minnesota professor who was the top ethics lawyer in the George W. Bush administration, concurred.
“I believe Justice Thomas had legal custody, and they have not disputed that,” Mr. Painter said. “It was his prerogative to send the child to private school, but he had to pay for it. That was his debt, like a utility bill or food.”
Stephen Gillers, a legal ethics professor at New York University, agreed, saying, “It should have been reported.” He also said the revelation underscored the need for Congress to tighten the rules.
Mr. Paoletta’s “legalistic parsing of language to avoid disclosure of a substantial gift” demonstrated that ethics rules “are seriously in need of revision to eliminate their porousness,” he said. “They are not achieving the transparency the public deserves.”
Anyway, back to the tax question. The thing about Harlan Crow’s, er, friendly generosity towards Clarence Thomas is that you can’t just give someone hundreds of thousands (or is it millions?) of dollars worth of gifts without paying taxes on the gifts. Has Crow done so?
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) recently wrote to Crow, seeking “a complete account” of Crow’s gifts to Thomas, as well as “evidence that Crow complied with federal tax law,” adding “This unprecedented arrangement between a wealthy benefactor and a Supreme Court justice raises serious concerns related to federal tax and ethics laws.” And today, in the wake of the latest Thomas scandal bombshell, Wyden hinted that if Crow is insufficiently responsive, he make take more aggressive measures:
Meanwhile, in the Senate Judiciary Committee, Republicans are using Sen. Diane Feinstein’s health problems to block any meaningful oversight of SCOTUS corruption. Today, Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin (D-IL) made clear that he isn’t considering subpoenas because with Feinstein unable to vote, he wouldn’t have a majority:
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.”
The likelihood that such a vote would fail is no reason to avoid holding one. Clarence Thomas’s secret financial relationship with billionaire Republican donor Harlan Crow is flagrantly corrupt. Congress has a responsibility to conduct real oversight — and if some members of Congress want to block that oversight, they should have to do so via recorded vote. The public has a right to know which elected representatives take seriously the integrity of the Supreme Court and which do not.
Apparently Clarence Thomas had people lining up to cover the tuition of his family members. In a totally not-corrupt way, of course. Also someone gave Thomas a set of tires? What is even going on here?
A strict originalist would limit himself to 140 characters per tweet; there is simply no historical tradition justifying a nine-paragraph tweet.
Also Paoletta is literally the center figure in that super weird oil painting of Harlan Crow and Clarence Thomas smoking stogies at Crow’s mountain retreat, which has me wondering: How much free stuff has Mark Paoletta gotten from Harlan Crow?
Though the way things have been going lately, there really isn’t ever a bad week to do so.