Billionaire Republican donor, Harlan Crow, paid the tuition fees for the grandnephew of US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, according to a new report by non-profit news organisation ProPublica. Crow claimed to have paid fees for pupils in the past from his own personal funds. This follows ProPublica’s revelation last month of Crow treating Justice Thomas and his wife to lavish holidays. The report prompted calls for ethics and disclosures to be reviewed by America’s top court. While Supreme Court justices are required to annually disclose gifts, Justice Thomas did not publicly declare the tuition fees paid for Mark Martin, who he has raised as his son since the age of six. Martin neither knew that Crow paid his tuition fees, nor declared them himself.
According to the report, Crow also paid for Martin’s tuition at Randolph-Macon Academy, a Virginia day and boarding school attended before and after Hidden Lake Academy. It is uncertain how much Crow paid in total. It is public knowledge that tuition and boarding fees at Randolph-Macon Academy are $43,873 annually.
Harlan Crow, through his office, did not directly address the payment of Martin’s tuition but stated that he has always believed in the importance of quality education and has been passionate about giving back to the less fortunate. “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.”
Mark Paoletta, a friend of Justice Thomas and former official in Donald Trump’s administration, defended the Supreme Court Justice by arguing that he did not have to report Martin’s tuition under a 1978 law that requires judges to disclose gifts to a “son, daughter, stepson or stepdaughter.” Paoletta stated, “Harlan Crow’s tuition payments made directly to these schools on behalf of Justice Thomas’s great nephew did not constitute a reportable gift. Justice Thomas never asked Harlan Crow to pay for his great nephew’s tuition.” He described ProPublica’s report as “malicious” and an attempt “to manufacture a scandal about Justice Thomas”.
This new report, coupled with last month’s revelation, has increased scrutiny on ethics and disclosures at the US Supreme Court. Democratic senators have called for an investigation into Justice Thomas while some Republican senators have accused their colleagues of targeting the nation’s highest court for political reasons. At a Senate hearing on Tuesday, lawmakers were divided on whether Supreme Court ethics rules should be reformed. Democratic Senator Dick Durbin argued that ethical standards for Supreme Court justices are too lenient. He argued that judges and other public officials in lower offices are held to a higher standard. Meanwhile, Republican Senator Lindsay Graham claimed that the left is attempting to delegitimise the court. The Supreme Court currently has a 6-3 conservative majority.
Justice Thomas has not commented on the ProPublica report at this time. A statement by Thomas in response to last month’s report stated that he had sought guidance on whether to report gifts from friends such as Crow from colleagues in the judiciary. He was told that “personal hospitality from close personal friends, who did not have business before the Court, was not reportable.” Thomas describes Crow and his wife Kathy Crow as long-time friends of over 25 years.