--Justice Clarence Thomas
Kudos to the stellar investigative reporters at Pro Publica who uncovered Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s unseemly relationship with billionaire Harlan Crow. Crow is the Justice’s personal angel, lavishing him and his wife, Ginni, with private jet travel to extravagant, luxury vacations in the world’s most exotic locations, cruises on his oligarch-worthy superyacht, tête-à têtes with his reactionary pals at his private Adirondack resort, as well as expensive gifts, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. He also overpaid Thomas and his co-owner(s) to purchase Thomas’s mother’s house and several vacant lots on the same street. Crow is a hard right Republican who, among other indulgences, contributes heavily to Ginni Thomas’s extremist causes, including her participation in the January 6 conspiracy to overthrow the government. The mogul also maintains an extensive collection of fascist memorabilia, including a signed copy of Adolf Hitler’s blood-curdling manifesto, Mein Kampf, and garden statuary of Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Lenin and other tyrants.
Thomas never disclosed any of this massive deluge of gifts as required by law.
Fifty-four years ago, Justice Abe Fortas was forced to resign from the U.S. Supreme Court, pressured to do so by several of his Court colleagues, many members of Congress and public opinion. He had accepted a lifetime retainer from someone who was later convicted of insider trading. He had also been paid $15,000 for a number of speeches. His transgressions seem minor compared to what Thomas has been about. Explain why what Fortas did compelled his resignation while what Thomas is doing is perfectly acceptable. This should not stand.
Thomas has been a loyal soldier when it comes to his votes on decisions favoring Crow’s extremist ideological bent. Even if outright corruption cannot be proved, the appearance of impropriety is beyond disturbing.
Since 1972, Federal court judges, except Supreme Court justices, have been bound by a Code of Judicial Conduct. One of its basic principles requires that a judge not participate in a case with respect to which his/her impartiality might reasonably be questioned. In other words, such a case calls for the judge to recuse him or herself. Thomas never does, even when cases touch on the involvement of his wife in efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Instead of adhering to an ethics code, each Supreme Court justice self-regulates. It has been clear for a long time that such self-surveillance doesn’t work.
Thomas won’t resign, as he should, and impeachment is unlikely given that the House of Representatives is under Republican control. Even as modest a step as expanding the Code of Judicial Conduct to apply to Supreme Court justices appears to be beyond the capacity of both Congress or the Court to mandate.
At the risk of adding to “Special Counsel Fatigue,” the Justice Department needs to launch an investigation into the extent of Thomas’s corruption. Who knows what else he has been up to? In addition, both Congress and the Judicial Conference of the U.S. also need to examine Thomas’s sleazy dealings. Scrutiny of the other justices, their contacts and transactions is also warranted.
Meanwhile, the Court’s steady loss of public esteem combined with increasing suspicion that it is not exactly a nonpartisan institution will continue, as will its determination to find new bottoms in which to wallow.
April 16, 2023