Clarence Thomas' donor tells Congress it doesn't have authority to investigate his gifts
Associate Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas sits with his wife and conservative activist Virginia Thomas while he waits to speak at the Heritage Foundation on October 21, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

In a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), lawyers for Republican mega-donor Harlan Crow claim that Congress doesn't "have the authority to investigate" the ethics of Crow's personal friendship with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

"Most importantly, Congress does not have the constitutional power to impose ethics rules and standards on the Supreme Court. Doing so would exceed Congress's Article I authority and violate basic separation of powers principles. That precludes the Committee from pursuing an investigation in support of such legislation," the letter says.

After revelations that Thomas was receiving gifts from Crow that went unreported, questions are being asked if the ethics rules are strict enough for those sitting on the top Court.

"Separately, the Committee has not identified a valid legislative purpose for its investigation and is not authorized to conduct an ethics investigation of a Supreme Court Justice," the letter continues. "The Committee's stated purpose of crafting new ethics guidelines for the Supreme Court is inconsistent with its actions and the circumstances in which this investigation was launched, all of which suggest that the Committee is targeting Justice Thomas for special and unwarranted opprobrium.

"Moreover, any information the Committee might legitimately need to draft legislation on this subject is readily available from other sources, the use of which would not trigger the same separation of powers concerns created by the Committee's requests to Mr. Crow."

The lawyers appear to be arguing constitutional “checks” and “balances” would violate the separation of powers.

New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie commented that the claim "runs very quickly into the little problem that the Supreme Court cannot operate without congressional appropriations and that it owes its structure to statute."

Watchdog group Accountable.US, which monitors the impact of special interests in Washington, accused Thomas of thinking that he is bigger than the law.

“It was Justice Thomas’s decades-long improper financial relationship with billionaire benefactor Harlan Crow that sparked the Supreme Court corruption crisis, which has now reached a fever pitch. It’s no surprise that Crow continues to operate as though he and Thomas exist above the law — but they don’t, and they must be held accountable,” said Accountable.US president Kyle Herrig. “Chief Justice Roberts has deflected his responsibility to clean up his Court, forcing Congress to step in. Whether by Roberts or Congress, we need urgent reform to restore credibility and integrity to our Court.”

See pages of the letter in the screen captures below and the full letter here.