In an interview with Meet the Press’ David Gregory this morning, GOP presidential frontrunner Herman Cain endorsed Justice Clarence Thomas as a model a President Cain would follow in making appointments to the Supreme Court:
GREGORY: What about the Supreme Court? Who’s your model of the ideal Supreme Court justice who you would appoint?
CAIN: I would say that there are several that I have a lot of respect for. Justice Clarence Thomas is one of them. I believe that Justice Clarence Thomas, despite all of the attacks that he gets from the left, he basically rules and makes his decisions, in my opinion, based upon the Constitution and solid legal thinking. Justice Clarence Thomas is one of my models.
For the record, we on “the left” do not attack Justice Thomas for any reason other than the fact that he is a terrible judge. His record on the Supreme Court is marred by conflicts of interest and other ethical scandals, and he embraces a discredited understanding of the Constitution that would declare everything from child labor laws to the ban on whites only lunch counters unconstitutional.
Thomas accepted lavish gifts from wealthy benefactors and even from corporate-aligned interest groups with business before his Court. Leading conservative donor Harlan Crow, whose company often litigates in federal court, provided $500,000 to allow Thomas’s wife to start a Tea Party group and he once gave Thomas a $19,000 Bible that belonged to Frederick Douglass. The American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a conservative think tank which frequently files briefs in Thomas’ Court, also gave Thomas a $15,000 bust of Abraham Lincoln as a gift. This last gift is particularly egregious because Thomas continued to sit on three cases where AEI filed a brief.
Significantly, a justice was forced to leave the Court for a very similar gifting scandal. In 1969, Justice Abe Fortas resigned in disgrace after the nation learned that he had accepted tens of thousands of dollars worth of gifts from corporate executives and other wealthy benefactors. Justice Thomas, by contrast, remains openly defiant at the mere suggestion that he has done anything wrong.
Nor is Thomas’ taste for expensive gifts his only ethical lapse. Thomas unethically attended a political fundraiser hosted by right-wing billionaire Charles Koch. He illegally omitted hundreds of thousands of dollars of his wife’s income from conservative organizations from his financial disclosure forms. And he has not disclosed whether his wife, a Tea Party lobbyist, is lobbying on any laws that are before his Court — a problem that could potentially raise recusal issues in the Affordable Care Act case.
Sadly, however, Thomas’ many ethical lapses are not even the most disturbing part of his tenure as a justice. In three separate cases — U.S. v. Lopez, U.S. v. Morrison, and Gonzales v. Raich — Thomas claimed that the constitutional basis of national labor laws and most national civil rights laws is “at odds with the constitutional design.” It’s difficult to count how many laws would simply cease to exist under Thomas’ vision of the law, but a short list includes the federal ban on workplace discrimination, laws protecting older Americans and Americans with disabilities, the national minimum wage, national child labor laws and the federal ban on whites-only lunch counters.
Given Cain’s long history of confusing the Constitution with a Tea Party manifesto, it’s not surprising that Cain wants to see more Clarence Thomases on the federal bench — but it is still deeply disturbing. One ethically challenged justice eager to repeal the Twentieth Century is too many.