After the bombshell revelations that he accepted luxury travel on a billionaire GOP donor’s private jet and yacht for years, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has been accused of failing to disclose his relationship with real estate mogul Harlan Crow and his company, Crow Holdings, in a 2021 case concerning federal tenant protections.
Texas billionaire Harlan Crow’s companies purchased an old single-story home and two vacant lots on a quiet residential street in Savannah, Georgia, from the Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas who he had lavished with gifts and travel
According to corporate documents, Justice Thomas voted to end these protections, which Crow Holdings claimed could threaten their real estate profit margins. However, Justice Thomas did not recuse himself from the case, despite the potential impact on Crow Holdings.
Further reporting by ProPublica found that Justice Thomas also failed to disclose two decades’ worth of luxury gifts provided by Crow, as well as Crow’s purchase of properties owned by Thomas, in apparent violation of longstanding federal ethics rules.
Now, the issue of rent control, which Crow Holdings’ documents also say threatens the company’s business, could come before Justice Thomas, and there is no indication he would recuse himself if it does.
Crow Holdings’ financial disclosures about eviction moratoria and rent control contradict the notion that Justice Thomas never ruled on matters related to his benefactor’s business. Crow Holdings owns apartment buildings, student housing, and manufactured housing nationwide and was cited in congressional testimony for being one of the country’s most frequent eviction filers, despite the moratorium.
In March 2020, Crow Holdings Capital, the firm’s investment arm, warned investors in a financial filing that the pandemic was already leading to “substantial governmental intervention” that could end up “substantially eliminating market participants’ ability to continue to implement certain strategies or manage the risk of their outstanding positions.”
Last month, Crow Holdings Capital made its interest in ending eviction moratoria explicit, telling investors that its business “may be particularly susceptible to economic effects driven by a pandemic such as COVID‐19, including risks related to tenants being unable to pay rent (particularly with respect to residential, retail and office properties), federal or state restrictions on rent pricing, rent increases, or eviction moratoriums.”
At the time of Justice Thomas’ 2021 vote, Ken Valach, the CEO of Crow Holdings’ development arm, was serving as the vice chair of the National Multifamily Housing Council, a lobbying group pressing the federal government to end the moratorium. The group released a statement saying that “a long-term eviction moratorium was never the right policy” and that it “does nothing to speed the delivery of real solutions for America’s renters and ignores the unsustainable and unfair economic burden placed on millions of housing providers, jeopardizing their financial stability and threatening the loss of affordable housing stock nationwide.” Another Crow executive was also a member of the Real Estate Roundtable, a nonprofit think tank that also opposed the eviction moratorium.
Bloomberg reported on Monday that Justice Thomas did not appear to recuse himself in a 2005 Supreme Court case involving Trammell Crow Residential, in which Crow Holdings owned a minority stake.
In the coming months, the rent control issue flagged by Crow Holdings could be before Justice Thomas and the high court. A group of New York landlords are preparing to petition the Supreme Court to overturn the city’s rent stabilization laws after losing a recent case. Such a ruling could endanger rent-control laws nationwide.
The situation has raised concerns about potential conflicts of interest for Justice Thomas and the need for stronger disclosure and recusal rules. Stephen Spaulding, senior counsel for public policy and government affairs at Common Cause, a nonpartisan watchdog group, said in a statement, “Justice Thomas has a responsibility to recuse himself from cases involving his billionaire benefactor and to comply with financial disclosure requirements designed to ensure public trust in the integrity of the Supreme Court. This appears to be a blatant disregard for the code of conduct for United States judges and underscores the need for stronger transparency and accountability measures.”
The Supreme Court has faced criticism in recent years for a lack of transparency and accountability. Justices are not subject