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Thomas’ friendship with GOP donor raises more ethical questions

The exit from Congress of one of Justice Clarence Thomas’s most vocal critics has not stopped ethical questions from being raised about the Supreme Court justice’s associations.

In January, liberal lobbying group Common Cause asked the Justice Department to investigate Thomas and Justice Antonin Scalia for possible conflicts of interest based on the justices’ association with conservative financiers Charles and David Koch.

Now, a New York Times piece examines the relationship between Thomas and hefty conservative donor and Dallas real estate magnate Harlan Crow.

Crow, among other things: has donated money – at Thomas’ behest – for a land preservation project and museum in the justice’s home town of Pin Point, Ga.; financed a Savannah library project in the justice’s honor; gave Thomas a bible once belonging to Frederick Douglass; and even gave Thomas’ wife, Virginia, the seed money to start her Tea Party-affiliated group Liberty Central.

Under the ethical code which binds federal judges except for those on the Supreme Court bench, judges “should not personally participate” in raising money for charitable activities, nor should they know the donors to projects honoring them. The rule is meant to prevent the appearance that the donations are designed to sway the judge’s vote in any matter pertaining to the donor.

Ethicists are split on whether Thomas’ association with Crow raises serious ethical problems, with some saying his participation in the fundraising activities should have been prohibited. Others say Thomas did not violate any ethical rules, but one added: “It’s just a very peculiar situation.”

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