Sunday, June 26, 2011

Ian M. MacIsaac: The Misdeeds of Clarence Thomas

  For the majority of this country’s history, the Supreme Court has stood as our national model of impartiality and justice. Our High Court was the last forum of decision-making in Washington removed from the petty political concerns of things like lobbying and reelection campaigns and all the money-grubbing.
  But it seems that truly nothing is sacred anymore in today’s post-American era of conservative radicalism, not even the Supreme Court.

  And although of course no one person deserves all the blame for any screw-up so huge, the Court’s huge loss of integrity over the past decade or so seems to be crystallized—if not defined—by the behavior of Justice Clarence Thomas.


  Old Clarence has found himself at the center of a scandal, broken by the New York Times last Sunday, concerning his goings-on with a Dallas, Tex. real estate mogul named Harlan Crow.

  The Times reported that Thomas has solicited improper gifts and donations from Crow, both for himself and his wife Virginia directly, as well as additional donations for organizations the justice supports politically.
  The Times story centers around a museum being built in Thomas’s birthplace of Pin Point, Ga., to celebrate the story and culture of the historic fishing region.

  Mr. Thomas, a supporter of the planned museum’s foundation and a likely subject of at least some of its exhibitions (given that the town as it is currently bases its persona around being the birthplace of Clarence Thomas), has reportedly crossed the line in getting Crow involved with the project so directly.

  Indeed, according to the Times, Thomas specifically informed Crow of the museum foundation with the intent of soliciting money from the mogul on behalf of the foundation’s head Algernon Varn, whom Thomas later reportedly introduced to Crow.

  “Justices,” said Stanford law professor Deborah L. Rhode in the Times article, “should not be directly involved in fund-raising activities, no matter how worthy they are or whether he [Thomas] is being centrally honored by the museum.”

  In  addition, the Justice has been accused of appropriating Mr. Crow’s yacht and private jet for his own personal travel use multiple times without once officially reporting it as a gift.

  If Justice Thomas has done these things, he should do the appropriate thing and resign. Although Supreme Court justices are not legally bound to the judicial code of ethics the way lower U.S. judges are, this is certainly more troubling than Anthony Weiner’s behavior, and he certainly had to go. Once that ethical bar is set for ‘scandals’, it is only just that it is attended to.

  Furthermore, when was the last time this kind of behavior was tolerated out of a Supreme Court justice? Misbehaving congressmen are one thing—America’s always had at least a few obvious money-grubbers and/or freaks in the House at any given time.
  But a corrupt Supreme Court Justice is a whole different and far more depressing ballpark for our nation’s ethical standard. Those clothed in robes do not get themselves involved in shenanigans.

  The question then becomes, ‘Did Clarence do it?’ History would lend its credibility to ‘yes.’

  Seven years ago, it became public knowledge that Justice Thomas had received but not disclosed more than $42,000 worth of gifts over the previous six years, exceeding the amount received by all other justices.

  It figures that due to the outcry about that revelation, Thomas has not since officially reported a single gift received in his capacity as a Supreme Court justice.

  It is clear, then, that Justice Thomas clearly has a predilection for happily accepting gifts from rich lobbyists—as well as a habit, it seems, of keeping it hushed up as well as possible.

  Troubling questions about Thomas’s tendencies go beyond his personal relationships and into his voting record on the Supreme Court.

  There have been questions about whether he and fellow justice Antonin Scalia should have recused themselves from last year’s Citizens United decision, in which—with Thomas and Scalia supporting the majority—a long list of laws prohibiting corporate donations to political campaigns were wiped away by the Reagan-and-Bush-appointed activist half of the current court.

  The issue over whether their conduct in voting for the overthrow of the corporate donations laws comes from Thomas and Scalia’s attendance at a political retreat organized by brothers Charles and David Koch, whose Koch Industries had billions of dollars and multiple political races at stake in the Citizens United decision.
  If Thomas and the Koch brothers are good buddies, how is that any different than when robber barons had their brothers doing their dirty work in presidential cabinets 120 years ago? It’s simply dirty politics.


  And a similar conflict of interest that Thomas will have to make a decision about is on the Court’s horizon. The Obama health care law will likely come before the court within the next year.

  Recall here that Virginia Thomas was able to begin her anti-health care reform group, Liberty Central, thanks to a $500,000 donation by Harlan Crow solicited personally by Justice Thomas. (Crow has donated to multiple other anti-health care reform organizations, as well.)

  With his wife leading the Tea Party war against the Affordable Care Act through an organization Thomas and his rich friend helped start (not to mention the direct anti-health care activities of Crow himself), can Thomas really get in his robes and rule on the case with a straight face, pretending his family does not have a personal stake in the possible overturning of ‘Obamacare’ as unconstitutional? Or will he do the right thing for once and finally recuse himself when it comes time to do so?


  Of course, he almost certainly will not recuse himself. And that is the problem with Clarence Thomas. Thomas is famous for never speaking while hearing a trial, and his quietude in the courtroom has seemingly fooled people into thinking he does not have the fiery heart of a political mover.

  He obviously does; and he obviously does not give a hoot about the centuries of tradition and decorum he has to shunt aside to get what he wants to get. Clarence Thomas should do the right thing and resign from the Supreme Court.

  About the author: Ian MacIsaac is a staff writer for the Capital City Free Press. He is a history major at Auburn University Montgomery in Montgomery, Alabama and former co-editor of the school newspaper, the AUMnibus.

Copyright © Capital City Free Press

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