Jamie Gangel, Elizabeth Stuart and Tierney Sneed at CNN:
In a carefully worded, but blunt statement, conservative former federal judge J. Michael Luttig sent a warning shot to the Supreme Court, calling on the Court to enact a code of conduct that would “subject itself to the highest professional and ethical standards that would render the Court beyond reproach.”
If the Supreme Court does not take such action, he cautioned, Congress has “the power under the Constitution” to prescribe ethical standards of conduct for the court.
The statement is part of written testimony Luttig – a former judge on the US 4th Circuit Court of Appeals – has submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee holding hearings Tuesday and follows weeks of ethical controversies involving the Supreme Court. Luttig’s public admonition is especially notable because of his conservative credentials and his longstanding, close ties with the Supreme Court.
In 2008, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas decided to send his teenage grandnephew to Hidden Lake Academy, a private boarding school in the foothills of northern Georgia. The boy, Mark Martin, was far from home. For the previous decade, he had lived with the justice and his wife in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. Thomas had taken legal custody of Martin when he was 6 years old and had recently told an interviewer he was “raising him as a son.”
Tuition at the boarding school ran more than $6,000 a month. But Thomas did not cover the bill. A bank statement for the school from July 2009, buried in unrelated court filings, shows the source of Martin’s tuition payment for that month: the company of billionaire real estate magnate Harlan Crow.
The payments extended beyond that month, according to Christopher Grimwood, a former administrator at the school. Crow paid Martin’s tuition the entire time he was a student there, which was about a year, Grimwood told ProPublica.
“Harlan picked up the tab,” said Grimwood, who got to know Crow and the Thomases and had access to school financial information through his work as an administrator.
Last month, ProPublica reported that Thomas accepted luxury travel from Crow virtually every year for decades, including international superyacht cruises and private jet flights around the world. Crow also paid money to Thomas and his relatives in an undisclosed real estate deal, ProPublica found. After he purchased the house where Thomas’ mother lives, Crow poured tens of thousands of dollars into improving the property. And roughly 15 years ago, Crow donated much of the budget of a political group founded by Thomas’ wife, which paid her a $120,000 salary.