"Why We Doubt Clarence Thomas"
At an event sponsored by the right-wing Federalist Society, Justice Clarence Thomas lashed out at his many critics — including ThinkProgress — claiming that we are attacking him as part of some nefarious plot to undermine the Supreme Court as an institution:
He also lashed out at his critics, without naming them, asserting they “seem bent on undermining” the High Court as an institution. Such criticism, Thomas warned, could erode the ability of American citizens to fend off threats to their way of life.
“You all are going to be, unfortunately, the recipients of the fallout from that – that there’s going to be a day when you need these institutions to be credible and to be fully functioning to protect your liberties,” he said, according to a partial recording of the speech provided to POLITICO by someone who was at the meeting.
As the news outlet which originally broke the story that Justice Thomas unethically attended a Koch-sponsored political fundraiser, ThinkProgress is honored by Thomas’ suggestion that we have become so powerful that we are capable of undermining an entire branch of the federal government. Yet, if Thomas is really concerned that the Supreme Court’s legitimacy is being undermined, he should direct his criticism far closer to home:
- Unethical Fundraising: The Code of Conduct for United States Judges forbids those judges from “personally participate in fund-raising activities, solicit funds for any organization, or use or permit the use of the prestige of judicial office for that purpose,” except in very limited circumstances that don’t apply to the Koch’s political fundraising sessions. Although the nine justices have exempted themselves from their binding legal obligation to follow these ethical rules, they have also long followed a policy of “look[ing] to the Code of Conduct for guidance” in determining when they may participate in fundraising activities. Thomas’ decision to thumb his nose at judicial ethics has already triggered a bill that would end the justices longstanding immunity to ethics laws.
- Failure to Disclose: Federal judges and justices are required by law to disclose their spouse’s income — thus preventing persons who wish to influence the judge or justice from funneling money to them through their husband or wife. Nevertheless, Thomas falsely claimed that his wife — a lobbyist and high-earning member of the professional right — earned no non-investment income whatsoever while she was working at the right-wing Heritage Foundation. When asked to explain this error, Thomas — who is one of the nine people responsible for issuing binding interpretations of the nation’s founding document — claimed that he “misunderst[ood] the filing instructions.”
- Potential Conflict of Interest: Ginni Thomas, Justice Thomas’ wife, used to lead an organization that vigorously opposes the Affordable Care Act, and she even briefly signed a memo calling that Act unconstitutional. Ginni also may be earning lobbying fees for working to have this Act repealed. A team of conservative lawyers recently argued that such activities by a judge’s spouse requires the judge to recuse from the lawsuits challenging the ACA, but Thomas’ defiant speech to the Federalist Society leaves little doubt that he will not recuse.
- A Financial Stake in His Own Decisions?: Ginni Thomas may also be getting rich off of her husband’s vote in the infamous Citizens United decision — which freed corporations to spend billions of dollars to buy U.S. elections. Ginni’s new lobbying firm “offers advice on optimizing political investments for charitable giving in the non-profit world or political causes,” a line of work which has obviously become much more lucrative since Citizens United.
- Discredited Understanding of the Constitution: Perhaps most disturbingly, Thomas embraces a discredited theory of the Constitution which would return America to a time when federal child labor laws were considered unconstitutional. Other cherished accomplishments that would likely cease to exist in Clarence Thomas’ America include “the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the sick leave portions of the Family and Medical Leave, the Freedom of Access to Clinics Act, as well as minimum wage and maximum hour laws.”
So the truth is that ThinkProgress and other Thomas doubters hardly deserve the credit he gives us for undermining the Court’s credibility. Justice Thomas is inflicting far greater wounds on the Court’s legitimacy than any of his critics could ever cause.