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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Judicial Ethics: Friendship and Philanthropy

Harlan Crow was a Dallas real estate magnate and a major contributor to conservative causes. He did many favors for his friend, Clarence Thomas, “helping finance a Savannah library project dedicated to Justice Thomas, presenting him with a Bible that belonged to Frederick Douglass and reportedly providing $500,000 for [Virginia] Thomas to start a Tea Party-related group.” The two friends spent time together at “gatherings of prominent Republicans and businesspeople at Crow’s Adirondacks estate and his camp in East Texas.” Crow also “stepped in at Thomas’ urging” to finance the multimillion-dollar purchase and restoration of the cannery that had employed the justice’s mother. Crow’s restoration “featured a museum about the culture and history of Pin Point that has become a pet project of Justice Thomas’s. . . . While the nonprofit Pin Point museum is not intended to honor Justice Thomas, people involved in the project said his role in the community’s history would inevitably be part of it, and he participated in a documentary film that is to accompany the exhibits.”

News “of Mr. Crow’s largess provoked controversy and questions, adding fuel to a rising debate about Supreme Court ethics. But Mr. Crow’s financing of the museum, his largest such act of generosity, previously unreported, raises the sharpest questions yet — both about Justice Thomas’s extrajudicial activities and about the extent to which the justices should remain exempt from the code of conduct for federal judges. Although the Supreme Court is not bound by the code, justices have said they adhere to it. Legal ethicists differed on whether Justice Thomas’s dealings with Mr. Crow pose a problem under the code.”

The code says judges “should not personally participate” in raising money for charitable endeavors, out of concern that donors might feel pressured to give or entitled to favorable treatment from the judge. In addition, judges are not even supposed to know who donates to projects honoring them. . . . (T)he restriction on fund-raising is primarily meant to deter judges from using their position to pressure donors, as opposed to relying on ‘a rich friend’ like Mr. Crow, said Ronald D. Rotunda, who teaches legal ethics at Chapman University in California.” On the other side of the argument, Deborah L. Rhode, a Stanford University law instructor who has called for stricter ethics rules for Supreme Court justices, said Justice Thomas “should not be directly involved in fund-raising activities, no matter how worthy they are or whether he’s being centrally honored by the museum.”

The ethical analysis is at "Judicial Ethics."



Source:

Mike McIntire, “Friendship of Justice and Magnate Puts Focus on Ethics,” The New York Times, June 18, 2011.