Top US judge under fresh scrutiny over school fees

time:2023-06-08 23:22:58 source:The Washington Post

A billionaire Republican donor paid private school tuition fees for the grandnephew of US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, a new report says.

Real estate magnate Harlan Crow said in response that he often paid tuition fees for pupils "from personal funds".

The revelation is the latest reported by ProPublica, which last month revealed Mr Crow had treated Justice Thomas and his wife to lavish holidays.

A friend of Mr Thomas has defended him and called the report "malicious".

There's been renewed scrutiny of ethics and disclosures at America's top court.

Under long-standing rules, Supreme Court justices are required to file annual disclosures of gifts.

BBC News has approached Justice Thomas for comment - he did not comment on the report by ProPublica, a non-profit news organisation.

Its latest report cited a bank statement showing Mr Crow paid $6,200 (£4,900) in monthly tuition fees at Hidden Lake Academy, a boarding school in Georgia, for Justice Thomas's grandnephew Mark Martin.

In a 2007 interview, Justice Thomas has said that he has raised Mr Martin, who is now an adult, like his own son since he was six years old.

Mr Martin told ProPublica he did not know Mr Crow paid his tuition fees.

According to the report, Justice Thomas did not publicly declare the tuition fees paid for his grandnephew by Mr Crow, though he has declared a similar $5,000 (£3,977) payment from another friend in the past.

Mr Crow also paid for Mr Martin's tuition fees at a second school: Randolph-Macon Academy, a day and boarding school in Virginia, which Mr Martin attended before and after his time at Hidden Lake Academy.

In a statement posted on Twitter, Mark Paoletta - a friend of Justice Thomas and former official in Donald Trump's administration - argued Justice Thomas was not required to report the tuition.

As evidence, he cited a 1978 law that states that judges must disclose gifts given to a "son, daughter, stepson or stepdaughter" - suggesting that as a grandnephew, Mr Martin was not subject to the same rule.

"Harlan Crow's tuition payments made directly to these schools on behalf of Justice Thomas's great nephew did not constitute a reportable gift," the statement added. "Justice Thomas never asked Harlan Crow to pay for his great nephew's tuition."

Mr Paoletta described the ProPublica report as "malicious" and an attempt "to manufacture a scandal about Justice Thomas".

It is unclear how much Mr Crow paid in tuition fees in total. Current annual tuition and boarding school fees at Randolph-Macon Academy are $43,873 a year, according to the school's website.

In a statement, Mr Crow's office did not address the payments made to cover Mr Martin's tuition fees directly, but said the billionaire has "long been passionate about the importance of quality education and giving back to those 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," the statement said.

Last month, ProPublica revealed Justice Thomas enjoyed lavish gifts from Mr Crow, including trips to luxury vacations on private jets, which he did not publicly disclose.

In a statement addressing those previous reports, Justice Thomas said he had sought "guidance from my colleagues and others in the judiciary" and was told that "that this sort of personal hospitality from close personal friends, who did not have business before the Court, was not reportable".

The justice described Mr Crow and his wife Kathy Crow as "among our dearest friends, and we have been friends for over twenty-five years".

In light of the reports, the Supreme Court has been criticised for a lack of accountability, and Democratic senators have called on the court to investigate Justice Thomas.

On Tuesday, lawmakers were divided on whether to reform Supreme Court ethics rules at a Senate hearing.

Democrat Senator Dick Durbin argued that ethical standards for Supreme Court justices are too lax, and that judges and other public officials in lower offices are held to a higher standard.

"I think it's pretty clear to most objective people this is not the ordinary course of business, nor should it be a standard for those of us in public service," Mr Durbin said.

Meanwhile, Republican senators accused Democratic lawmakers of targeting the nation's highest court for political reasons. The Supreme Court currently has a 6-3 conservative majority.

Republican Senator Lindsay Graham said the latest push for Supreme Court reform was part of "a concentrated effort by the left to delegitimise the court".

Related content
Latest content
Recommended content
Hot content