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Report: Harlan Crow Has a Stake in 4 SCOTUS Cases — and Thomas Hasn’t Recused

Crow’s financial interest in the cases, as uncovered in new exclusive research, could sway Thomas’s decisions.

Pigeons fly onto on a ledge atop the west front of the U.S. Supreme Court on October 2, 2023.

The firm that provided Justice Clarence Thomas’s billionaire benefactor Harlan Crow with his business success and extreme wealth could stand to majorly benefit from several key Supreme Court cases that Thomas is set to rule on, new research reveals.

Crow, his real estate firm Crow Holdings and subsidiary Trammell Crow Residential (TCR) — a real estate development company founded by Crow’s father — have ties to at least four upcoming Supreme Court cases in which Thomas could essentially rule to provide a helping hand to the corporations whose profits have, indirectly, helped fund his luxury trips with the billionaire.

The cases are high stakes, involving the enforcement of crucial disability protections and the very future of governance in the U.S. The research, provided exclusively to Truthout by Accountable.US, suggests that Thomas’s ability to rule on a wide range of cases may be compromised by his personal relationship with Crow, who has far-reaching influence across the corporate and conservative advocacy worlds — corruption that could have huge consequences for the American public.

“It was Harlan Crow’s decades-long relationship with Justice Thomas that sparked the Supreme Court corruption crisis in the first place. Now, Crow and other billionaire benefactors continue to benefit from their friends on the high court — and Chief Justice [John] Roberts refuses to do anything about it,” said Accountable.US president Caroline Ciccone in a statement provided to Truthout. “It’s far past time for Roberts and his conflicted justices to stop putting their billionaire pals over everyday Americans.”

Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo

One key case that Crow has a stake in is Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo, in which the High Court could rule to overturn nearly 40 years of precedent regarding how federal agencies are allowed to interpret laws. “Chevron deference” is a foundational decision that has been used to uphold nearly 20,000 agency rules, according to Lexis Nexis, including worker protections, emissions regulations, and more.

Chevron deference has been a longtime target of TCR, the company once known as the largest landlord in the U.S. and which now touts its status as one of the largest U.S. developers.

In 2018, the company’s CEO Ken Valach submitted a comment to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) asking the Trump administration — which has also long sought to strip regulatory power from federal agencies — to roll back a housing standard that was upheld in a 2015 Supreme Court decision that was largely viewed as a loss for developers.

The disparate impact standard was established to fight discrimination in housing even if it wasn’t done intentionally. In his comment, Valach argued that HUD hadn’t “properly limited” its disparate impact considerations, which “exceed HUD’s statutory authority and are therefore invalid,” he wrote. The SCOTUS case involved HUD’s ability to implement the standard as subject to Chevron deference — in other words, if Chevron deference were nullified, HUD’s application of disparate impact may not have stood up to Court scrutiny and could potentially have been struck down.

That was the outcome that Thomas had seemingly wanted; at the time, the justice wrote a separate dissent, calling disparate impact rules a “scheme” that “represents the triumph of an agency’s preferences over Congress’s” lawmaking. He further argued that racial imbalances aren’t necessarily reflective of discrimination against Black people and other oppressed communities. “In our own country, for roughly a quarter-century now, over 70 percent of National Basketball Association players have been black,” he wrote, to supposedly illustrate his point.

Crow Holdings’s stake in the downfall of Chevron deference — as established in SCOTUS’s 1984 Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council decision — is significant; Chevron has been applied in over 41 percent of cases involving HUD, according to a 2017 study.

This is perhaps why the National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC) filed an amicus brief in the case arguing against the standard in 2014, making a similar argument to Valach that the disparate impact rules “exceed HUD’s statutory authority.” NMHC is closely tied with Crow Holdings — Valach is the current chair of the NMHC, and TCR is listed among the top donors to the industry group, at the “Chair’s Circle” level of at least $50,000 a year. TCR’s former chief financial officer, Timothy Hogan, also served on NMHC’s executive committee when the group filed the brief.

CFPB v. Community Financial Services Association of America

NMHC also has a major stake in the Supreme Court case challenging the existence of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which justices heard arguments for last week. CFPB has long used disparate impact as a way to combat discrimination in lending and among consumer financial services at large.

The CFPB was created in the wake of the 2008 recession to protect consumers from fraud, scams, and other predatory practices — like those used by prominent members of NMHC that the group is likely seeking to protect. According to Accountable.US research, the CFPB has ordered TRC’s fellow “Chair’s Circle” donors — Capital One, JPMorgan Chase, Regions Bank and Wells Fargo — to collectively pay at least $5.5 billion for mismanagement and deceptive or otherwise illegal practices.

NMHC has spent over $15 million lobbying CFPB and other related agencies just since 2021, while opposing policies like the Biden administration’s blueprint for a renter’s bill of rights; agencies seeking comment on housing discrimination caused by background checks; and the COVID-spurred federal eviction moratorium, which the CFPB helped administer.

When the Supreme Court struck down the eviction moratorium in 2021, with Thomas ruling in the majority, NMHC celebrated the decision, saying that the real estate industry was “vigorously opposed” to the policy. Crow Holdings had filed for 122 evictions while the moratorium was in place, according to the Private Equity Stakeholder Project. Thomas has already been urged to recuse from the CFPB case for separate connections with figures seeking to destroy the agency.

Acheson Hotels LLC v. Laufer

TRC may also be invested in the outcome of another upcoming SCOTUS case that could gut one of the most effective enforcement mechanisms of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Acheson Hotels LLC v. Laufer regards the ability of a disability advocate to sue a hotel that the lawsuit alleges didn’t provide proper information on accessibility online.

As Accountable.US points out, TRC once had to settle a case in New York in which the state attorney general said that the company didn’t provide disability accessible facilities in a 795-unit apartment complex. The company was ordered to pay $75,000 to harmed parties and retrofit the facility.

Crow also has an indirect link to the defendants in the case. The right-wing Center for Constitutional Responsibility has been outspoken in favor of the hotel in the case, and filed an amicus brief supporting Acheson Hotels in 2022. The president of the group is Adam White, who has two professional ties to Crow. White is a senior fellow on SCOTUS at the American Enterprise Institute, of which Harlan Crow is a board member, and he was previously a fellow at the Hoover Institution, of which Crow is on the board of overseers.

Moore v. U.S.

Finally, Crow likely has a personal financial stake in Moore v. United States, which could outlaw the ability to create a wealth tax in the U.S. and create a major hurdle to advancing wealth equality nationwide. Crow and conservative billionaire Paul Singer, who has previously given Justice Samuel Alito undisclosed gifts, could see some of their personal wealth taxed under various wealth tax proposals.

Singer is chair of the Manhattan Institute, which has filed an amicus brief urging SCOTUS to preemptively outlaw a wealth tax. Crow’s wife, Kathy Crow, is on the board of the group.

Crow already has a record of seemingly dodging taxes, having perhaps questionably classified his superyacht that Thomas has ridden on as a charter boat on tax forms, as ProPublica reported. The outcome of Moore v. U.S. could also have an personal impact on Thomas — if Crow were to one day face a wealth tax, Thomas’s ability to take billionaire-funded vacations each year could be compromised.

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