In a world where the intersection between politics and real estate rarely gains any notable attention, the long-standing friendship between Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and Harlan Crow, a Dallas-based real estate titan, has recently come under scrutiny.
As allegations of undisclosed rides aboard private jets and unwarranted luxury trips surface, how will this seemingly convoluted relationship hold up under the weight of its own controversy?
In light of these recent events, it’s prudent to analyze the significance of this alliance and how it might impact both the world of politics and the real estate industry just the same.
A Tale of Two Titans
Harlan Crow, son of the late Trammell Crow, is the current steward of his father’s diverse real estate portfolio.
Taking over in 1988 amidst the debilitating housing market crash, Harlan revived his family’s struggling fortune and even expanded on it with new additions such as Trammell Crow Residential, Crow Holdings Capital, Crow Holdings Industrial, and Crow Holdings Office.
Today, the firm manages upwards of $30 billion in total assets and is one of the most active multifamily developers in America.
It was 27 years ago that Harlan began his friendship with Clarence Thomas, the Supreme Court Justice who himself had achieved considerable acclaim in the world of politics.
A chapter in Harlan Crow’s life had just begun as he left Washington DC to return home to Dallas, coincidentally where Thomas was scheduled to give a speech.
As it happens, the two men were on the same flight back to Texas, and Harlan recounts in an interview with the Dallas Morning News that, “during that flight, we found out we were kind of simpatico. We come from absolutely polar opposite life stories, but we had a lot in common.”
The Ties That Bind
Indeed, the political beliefs and respective life stories of Thomas and Harlan couldn’t have been more different, but their continued fondness for one another proves the bigger picture isn’t always muddled by petty differences.
However, the complexity of the relationship was never contested more than when Harlan’s occasional forays into political affairs exposed him to the demanding scrutiny of the public eye.
Whether defending his decisions to donate almost a million dollars to a campaign stopping the construction of a publicly owned hotel or finding his spending habits unearthed by investigative, bipartisan publication ProPublica, the Dallas magnate’s fight to maintain some semblance of privacy in his public life has been arduous.
Controversy Sparks Concern
In April of this year, ProPublica published two separate reports that scrutinized the relationship between Thomas and Crow with a piercing intensity.
Among the many allegations that emerged was the likelihood that Thomas had failed to disclose a number of highly expensive gifts he’d received from Crow.
The report also detailed crucial mistakes made by Thomas in key financial reports such as the 2014 non-disclosure of a $133,363 Savannah, Georgia home sale, which is a direct violation of the federal law requirement that justices report real estate sales of $1,000 or more.
The culmination of these repeated charges against Thomas led to a powerful request from Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden.
In a written statement regarding the numerous allegations, Wyden asked that Crow provide a detailed list of all the gifts he’s given to Thomas, citing the “unprecedented” secrecy of their dealings as unacceptable.
According to the Dallas Morning News, Crow said that the gifts extended to Thomas and his wife were “no different from the hospitality we have extended to our many other dear friends,” but many remain unwilling to see the big picture.
What Does the Future Hold?
As their relationship continues to come under fire, both Thomas and Crow continue to build on their respective fortunes. Crow Holdings, now helmed by Morgan Stanley veteran Michael Levy, is proceeding with ambitious plans to construct a $38 million logistics center in Dallas.
Meanwhile, Thomas continues to preside over his growing interests in family real estate businesses like Ginger Ltd., Partnership.
With their friendship entering its fourth decade, Harlan Crow and Clarence Thomas are a testament to the kind of steadfast loyalty that can endure untold scrutiny.
Yet, despite their well-preserved bond, this summer’s travel plans may be slightly trickier to manage than ever before.