April 6, 2023
The Supreme Court was in the news this morning, as Joshua Kaplan, Justin Elliott, and Alex Mierjeski of ProPublica explained that for more than twenty years Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has enjoyed the hospitality and funding of Dallas real estate magnate and major Republican donor Harlan Crow. Thomas and his wife Ginni, who was closely involved in challenging the 2020 presidential election, have taken trips in private jets and gone on vacations with Crow worth as much as $500,000.
Thomas did not disclose any of these valuable gifts. Indeed, in a documentary funded in part by Crow, Thomas presented himself as a regular guy. “I prefer the RV parks. I prefer the Walmart parking lots to the beaches and things like that. There’s something normal to me about it,” he said. “I come from regular stock, and I prefer that—I prefer being around that.”
After the story dropped, David G. Savage of the Los Angeles Times recalled that his newspaper had disclosed the close connections between Thomas and Crow in 2004, noting, for example, that Crow had given Thomas a $19,000 Bible that had belonged to the famous formerly enslaved abolitionist and writer Frederick Douglass and a $15,000 bust of Abraham Lincoln. After their story appeared, it seems that Thomas did not stop accepting expensive gifts and travel from the wealthy mogul, but instead stopped disclosing them.
In Crow’s company, Thomas rubbed elbows with his host’s other guests, including senior business executives, major Republican donors, and leaders of right-wing think tanks. Crow has worked hard to move the judiciary and the legal system to the right, and at one of the properties where Thomas vacations, there is a painting of him in conversation with a number of figures, including Leonard Leo, the leader of the Federalist Society who has orchestrated the court’s hard-right turn. Leo is now overseeing Marble Freedom Trust, established to disburse funds from a $1.6 billion bequest to manipulate elections in favor of Republicans.
Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) tweeted: “Important for news media to not simply label this guy as a ‘[Republican] mega donor’. It’s so much worse. Crow has many interests before the Supreme Court. His groups file petitions before the court. It’s the clearest, most brazen violation of judicial ethics you can imagine.”
In Congress today, House Judiciary Committee chair Jim Jordan (R-OH) issued a subpoena in its investigation of the Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg’s office after that office indicted former president Donald Trump on 34 counts of falsifying business records on Tuesday. Bragg explained: “The trail of money & lies exposes a pattern that, the People allege, violates one of New York’s basic & fundamental business laws.”
Although Jordan himself refused to respond to a subpoena issued by the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, he is demanding that Mark Pomerantz, a former county special assistant district attorney who investigated Trump’s finances, show up to testify.
Pomerantz resigned from his role in the investigation out of frustration that Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg was not then moving forward with an indictment. The wording of Jordan’s letter indicates he is hoping to use Pomerantz’s words critical of Trump to argue that the district attorney’s office was biased against the former president.
General counsel for the Manhattan district attorney’s office Leslie Dubeck previously rejected the demands of Jordan, House Committee on House Administration chair Bryan Steil (R-WI), and House Committee on Oversight and Accountability chair James Comer (R-KY) for testimony and documents from Bragg, warning them that their attacks on Bragg and his office were “unlawful political interference.”
Dubeck pointed out: “our Office is legally constrained in how it publicly discusses pending criminal proceedings,… as you well know.” She called their interference “unnecessary and unjustified” and reminded the men that Congress has no jurisdiction over individual criminal investigations. Nor does it have jurisdiction over state investigations. “The Committees’ attempted interference with an ongoing state criminal investigation—and now prosecution—is an unprecedented and illegitimate incursion on New York’s sovereign interests,” she wrote.
Now Jordan is trying a different approach. Bragg responded: “The House [Republicans continue] to attempt to undermine an active investigation and ongoing New York criminal case with an unprecedented campaign of harassment and intimidation. Repeated efforts to weaken state and local law enforcement actions are an abuse of power and will not deter us from our duty to uphold the law.”
In the Tennessee statehouse this afternoon, Republican legislators led by House of Representatives speaker Cameron Sexton voted to expel Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, two young Black lawmakers who had led young protesters in chants from the floor of the house chamber in favor of gun safety legislation after house Republicans refused to allow debate on such a measure.
The Republicans charged that the three representatives had broken house rules and had engaged in “disorderly behavior” and “knowingly and intentionally” brought “dishonor to the House of Representatives.” The body avoided expelling Gloria Johnson, the white woman who chanted with Jones and Pearson, by one vote. Although the debate showed that a Republican had also broken house rules by recording a video that was then misleadingly edited and shown, that representative was not charged.
The three Democratic representatives joined protesters to call for gun safety legislation after six people, including three 9-year-olds, were killed in yet another school shooting. The Republicans have focused on cultural issues and have opposed taking up gun safety legislation. Indeed, they have worked to loosen gun laws; on the same day as the recent school shooting, a federal judge cleared the way for the Tennessee legislature to lower the age for permitless carry in the state from 21 to 18. Republican governor Bill Lee signed the permitless carry bill for 21 and up in 2021 at a Beretta gun manufacturing plant.
Today, young protesters in the statehouse defended the Tennessee Three, as they have become known, saying: “You ban books, you ban drag—kids are still in body bags!” After the votes to expel, the chants changed to “F*ck you, fascists!”
Republicans in the Tennessee legislature could act as they did because they have a supermajority thanks to their redistricting of the state after the 2020 census. In that redistricting they cracked Democratic-leaning Nashville, dividing it among three districts in which they overwhelmed Democratic voters with Republicans from the suburbs. A new state law has now required Nashville to cut its city council in half. Meanwhile, laws prohibiting people with a past felony conviction from voting cut more than 470,000 people from the voter rolls.
This lock on power has given Tennessee Republicans the ability to do as they please. Today it pleased them to expel two young Black legislators who were trying to force the Republicans to do something about the epidemic of gun violence that is killing their constituents.
The Supreme Court, Congress, and the Tennessee statehouse. What would you say if you saw today’s news coming from another country?
Before he left the chamber, Representative Justin Pearson told his suddenly former colleagues how he saw it.
“You are seeking to expel District 86’s representation from this house, in a country that was built on a protest. IN A COUNTRY THAT WAS BUILT ON A PROTEST. You who celebrate July 4, 1776, pop fireworks and eat hotdogs. You say to protest is wrong because you spoke out of turn, because you spoke up for people who are marginalized. You spoke up for children who won’t ever be able to speak again; you spoke up for parents who don’t want to live in fear; you spoke up for Larry Thorn, who was murdered by gun violence; you spoke up for people that we don’t want to care about. In a country built on people who speak out of turn, who spoke out of turn, who fought out of turn to build a nation.
“I come from a long line of people who have resisted.”