For more than two decades Clarence Thomas, a justice on the Supreme Court of the United States, has received gifts, free trips and six-figure donations on his behalf from Harlan Crow, a Texan billionaire and mega-donor to Republican causes. Those gifts, which have come under increasing scrutiny following the passage last month of new rules requiring Supreme Court justices to disclose such favours, included a painting of Thomas and his wife, payment for a statue of his eighth grade teacher and a donation to a portrait fund at Thomas’s alma mater, the Yale Law School, according to reporting by ProPublica.
Crow’s gifts to Thomas include a painting of the justice and his wife, far-right activist Ginni Thomas, by the Montreal-based artist Sharif Tarabay. Tarabay also made a hyper-realist painting of Crow with Thomas and three other friends that hangs at Camp Topridge, the billionaire’s New York estate. Crow has also given $105,000 to the Yale Law School, Thomas’s alma mater, earmarked for the “Justice Thomas Portrait Fund”, according to tax filings reviewed by ProPublica.
In a statement released by the Supreme Court on 7 April and quoted by The New York Times, Thomas said he had consulted his colleagues before deciding not to disclose such gifts. “Early in my tenure at the court, I sought guidance from my colleagues and others in the judiciary, and was advised that this sort of personal hospitality from close personal friends, who did not have business before the court, was not reportable,” Thomas said. “I have endeavoured to follow that counsel throughout my tenure, and have always sought to comply with the disclosure guidelines.”
Gifts from Harlan Crow and his wife Kathy on Thomas’s behalf also include an 1,800-pound statue commemorating the justice’s eighth grade teacher, Sister Mary Virgilius Reidy. In 2021, Crow flew Thomas on his private jet to the unveiling ceremony for the statue at a cemetery in New Jersey.
“We have never asked about a pending or lower court case, and Justice Thomas has never discussed one, and we have never sought to influence Justice Thomas on any legal or political issue,” Crow said in a statement to ProPublica. “On a number of occasions, we have made contributions to projects celebrating the life and legacy of Justice Thomas, just as we have done with other great leaders and historically significant figures.”
Crow’s definitions of “great leaders” and “historically significant figures” have come under scrutiny following revelations of his gifts to Thomas. In addition to collecting thousands of historic documents, books and Modern artworks (including pieces by Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Claude Monet), Crow owns two landscape paintings by Adolf Hitler, a signed copy of Mein Kampf and assorted Nazi memorabilia, according to Washingtonian and The Dallas Morning News. Perhaps most bizarrely, the garden of his Dallas home features a collection of historical statues of former dictators—some of them defaced after their falls from power—including Soviet leaders Vladimir Lenin and Josef Stalin, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Romania’s Nicolae Ceausescu.
“Most of the statues are Communists,” Crow told the Morning News in 2014 in reference to his sculpture garden of deposed despots, adding that he views his collections of such objects as prompts “to tickle the brain to know more”.