In an exclusive interview with ThinkProgress, Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT) — the lead sponsor of a bill which would strip Supreme Court justices of their immunity from a code of ethical conduct that applies to other federal judges — suggests that an investigation may be necessary to determine whether Justice Clarence Thomas’ many ethics scandals rise to the level where Thomas is no longer fit to serve on the nation’s highest Court:
QUESTION: Do you think what Thomas has done is as serious as what forced [disgraced former Supreme Court Justice Abe] Fortas off the bench?
MURPHY: I think our problem is we don’t know the full extent of Justice Thomas’ connections to [leading GOP donor] Harlan Crow, or, frankly, to a further network of right-wing funders. What he’s done is incredibly serious. I think, at the very least, his actions should disqualify him from sitting on any cases in which Crow-affiliated organizations are parties to or have attempted to influence [the Court]. But this is starting to rise to the level where there should start to be some real investigations as to whether Clarence Thomas can continue to serve as a justice on the Supreme Court.
Justice Thomas has sat on at least 11 cases where a Harlan Crow-affiliated group filed a brief — adopting the group’s preferred outcome in all but one case. Moreover, Thomas has yet to explain the full extent of his connections to Crow, despite news reports that Crow lavished gifts and other expensive favors on Thomas and his family. Nor has Thomas explained how his gifting scandal differs from the very similar gifting scandal that brought down Justice Abe Fortas.
There is one way, however, in which this scandal is quite different from the Fortas resignation. Fortas was a liberal justice, but many of the clearest calls for his resignation came from progressives such as Sen. (and future Vice President) Walter Mondale (D-MN) and Brown v. Board of Education author Chief Justice Earl Warren. As Murphy explains, however, Thomas’ ethics scandals have been met with “deafening silence from Republicans.” Unlike Mondale and Warren, who understood that the integrity of the judiciary must trump ideology, Murphy suggests Republicans have the opposite values:
One of the most shocking speeches that a Supreme Court justice has ever made was one that Justice Thomas made just a few months ago to a group of Virginia law students, in which — with his wife in the audience — he admitted, plainly, that his cause on the Supreme Court as a justice was the exact same cause that his wife was pursuing as the chief organizer of one of the nation’s most prominent Tea Party groups.
Republicans are silent on Thomas for a simple reason. He’s doing their bidding on the Supreme Court today, and they don’t want to do anything that compromises his ability to enforce a political agenda in the United States judicial system.
Murphy has few kind words for Thomas, but he also notes that he is not holding Thomas to a standard that is any higher than the one he must follow as a member of Congress. If a member of Congress were caught in a similar scandal, Murphy concludes, “there would be calls from across this country for them to resign, and, frankly, they would have violated the laws of this nation.”