Supreme Court Monopoly

I thought of  the PBS documentary Ruthless: Monopoly’s Secret History because of the latest Harlan Crow-Clarence Thomas story from ProPublica. It’s about a seedy self-serving real estate transaction in Thomas’ hometown of Savannah, GA.

The Monopoly magnate in the featured image is obviously Harlan Crow. Thomas is the shoe because shoes keep dropping about his misconduct. For some reason, I liked to be the thimble. I don’t recall why. I haven’t played Monopoly in years. I’m strictly a Scrabble guy nowadays.

Let’s roll the dice and pass GO.

Here’s a big bite of the ProPublica report:

“The transaction marks the first known instance of money flowing from the Republican megadonor to the Supreme Court justice. The Crow company bought the properties for $133,363 from three co-owners — Thomas, his mother and the family of Thomas’ late brother, according to a state tax document and a deed dated Oct. 15, 2014, filed at the Chatham County courthouse.

The purchase put Crow in an unusual position: He now owned the house where the justice’s elderly mother was living. Soon after the sale was completed, contractors began work on tens of thousands of dollars of improvements on the two-bedroom, one-bathroom home, which looks out onto a patch of orange trees. The renovations included a carport, a repaired roof and a new fence and gates, according to city permit records and blueprints.

federal disclosure law passed after Watergate requires justices and other officials to disclose the details of most real estate sales over $1,000. Thomas never disclosed his sale of the Savannah properties. That appears to be a violation of the law, four ethics law experts told ProPublica.”

The whole thing stinks like a clogged terlet on Baltic Avenue. It’s caused Senator Sheldon Whitehouse to ask for a DOJ investigation of the Crow-Thomas connection, which is best described as a pipeline for sleaze. Whitehouse is one of my favorite senators. He’s droll and sardonic. I try to be both but I’m better at the latter than the former.

Thomas didn’t respond to the latest ProPublica shoe to drop but Crow did:

“In a statement, Crow said he purchased Thomas’ mother’s house, where Thomas spent part of his childhood, to preserve it for posterity. “My intention is to one day create a public museum at the Thomas home dedicated to telling the story of our nation’s second black Supreme Court Justice,” he said. “I approached the Thomas family about my desire to maintain this historic site so future generations could learn about the inspiring life of one of our greatest Americans.”

Crow’s statement did not directly address why he also bought two vacant lots from Thomas down the street. But he wrote that “the other lots were later sold to a vetted builder who was committed to improving the quality of the neighborhood and preserving its historical integrity.”

That’s either a lie or a lame cover story. The sale put money in Thomas’ pockets and his mother still lives in the house, which is now owned by the Nazi memorabilia collector. Either way, Clarence Thomas is financially beholden to Harlan Crow.

As a legal matter, the “museum” has no bearing on Thomas’ duty to report the transaction. The lawyers on the original Perry Mason had a stock objection that applies here:

For those who think that Chief Justice John Roberts can wave a magic wand and solve the Crow-Thomas mishigas, think again. The Chief Justice is just the first among equals, not the boss of the other justices. Chief Justice Earl Warren was able to get Abe Fortas to resign because of the high regard the other justices had for him. Roberts is just another unethical schmo on a sleazy court.

Back to Monopoly. The closest I’ve come to playing the game in recent years was marching in the 2020 Krewe du Vieux parade with this as Spank’s theme:

That tagline applies to the Crow-Thomas saga as well: Everything is For Sale.

Let’s circle back to the featured image and grade Ruthless: Monopoly’s Secret History. I give it 3 1/2 stars and an Adrastos Grade of B+

There have been a string of little bribes flowing from Harlan Crow to Clarence Thomas. That’s why Death Cab for Cutie gets the last word:


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