Another Chink In The Armour Of Democracy

One of several major stories in the U.S. news over the past week or so is that of Justice Clarence Thomas and the ProPublica report of the millions of dollars in free vacations, travel, and other gifts he received from businessman Harlan Crow, but failed to report.  Not to beat a dead horse, but I think that Robert Reich’s views on this are spot on and deserve wide coverage.  In my view, Justice Thomas has severely discredited the impartiality of the highest court in the nation and if trust is ever to be restored, he must be impeached.

How to become one of Clarence and Ginni’s dearest friends

Who is he kidding?

Robert Reich

13 April 2023

After ProPublica reported that for more than two decades, Clarence Thomas has been taking lavish vacations, super-yacht trips, and rides on a private jet, all courtesy of GOP megadonor Harlan Crow, Thomas issued a statement last Friday — explaining that the reason he hadn’t disclosed any of this was that Crow and his wife are among Clarence and Ginni Thomases’ “dearest friends” and that “as friends do, we have joined them on a number of family trips during the more than quarter century we have known them.”

Thomas further explained that he thought he didn’t need to report these gifts on annual disclosure forms because when he first joined the court he was told that “personal hospitality from close personal friends” need not be reported.

This is dangerous rubbish. Thomas has been a member of the Supreme Court since October 1991, which means he met his “close personal friend” Harlan Crow after Thomas was already a justice. And Thomas has been accepting Crow’s sumptuous hospitality almost from that start. Which is exactly the problem.

And it’s why disclosure of such lavish gifts isn’t enough to guard the integrity of the court. In this age of billionaires, the law should be: No such gifts!

I knew Clarence Thomas when he was 23 years old. We never became close personal friends. (Although I made every effort to be friendly toward him at Yale Law School, he always responded to my overtures with an angry scowl. It is of course possible that I was obnoxiously friendly, but I don’t recall him speaking to any of our classmates. It’s also possible that Thomas became warmer and friendlier over the years.)

But once someone becomes a justice of the Supreme Court (or a member of Congress, or a president or governor), friendship often takes on a different meaning. The friendships of powerful people typically involve transactions replete with ulterior motive. This is especially true if the person on the other side of the friendship happens to be a multi-billionaire who pours tens of millions of dollars into political campaigns.

No billionaire’s gift to the powerful comes without strings; Crow’s to Clarence and Ginni has allowed Crow to crow that he hangs out with them — bragging rights that give Crow even more influence among those who’d like to have influence in high places. Not incidentally, Crow has links to groups that file amicus briefs before the Supreme Court.

I have seen it again and again in Washington. Money and influence are traded over fancy dinners, gatherings at luxury resorts, Georgetown soirees, and sleepovers in the Lincoln Bedroom. From these transactions bloom so-called “friendships” in which the line between personal chumminess and powerful quid pro quo dissolves into mutual advantage — and corruption.

It should be noted that since he has served on the Supreme Court, Thomas has been one of the chief enablers of such corruption. In 2010, he supported the court’s notorious Citizens United ruling, which removed limits on corporate spending on politics. But Thomas went even further, issuing a concurring opinion insisting that the court overturn all rules that require transparency in political spending: “This court should invalidate mandatory disclosure and reporting requirements,” he wrote. At the same time, Ginni Thomas was running a conservative nonprofit to fight the “tyranny” of President Obama — a nonprofit that directly benefited from the Citizens United ruling.

For a justice of the Supreme Court who would like to enjoy a lifestyle far above what his relatively meager salary can sustain, and for a justice’s wife intent on wielding even more political clout than her own marital circumstance provides — both in an era when unprecedented wealth has accumulated at the top — the choice of whom to befriend is not a random act. It drips with corruption.

Large gifts to Supreme Court justices give the appearance if not the reality of corruption. No disclosure can remove the taint. And friendship has nothing to do with it (not even if the friend has a thing for collecting Nazi memorabilia).

20 thoughts on “Another Chink In The Armour Of Democracy

  1. You have that judge, we have Boris Johnson. During his time as Prime Minister, he also enjoyed lavvish holidays at the expense of his business friends. One also paid for the redecoration of his apartments at 10 Downing Street, another arranged a loan of £800,000 interest free, and Russian-born oligarchs paid him to influence tax laws and give them honourable titles. None of this as secret, it was all done out in the open.
    Has he been charged with any offences, or thrown out of parliament?
    Far from it, he is more popular than ever, and is set to possibly return to a government minister’s position in the near future. He is also trying to bestow a Knighthood on his own father!
    Best wishes, Pete.

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  3. Impeach them all and start over with the Constitution as the bedrock. Too many people seem to have forgotten the Constitution. And put all the rights back into the Bill Of Rights. Actually, appoint me to the Supreme Court. So what if I don’t have a law degree! I at least obey the law with the possible exception of the speed limits. If the speedomoter says it will go 150 then that should be the speed for that particular vehicle!

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    • Well, that would be rather like throwing out the baby with the bathwater, for there are some honest ones who still have their integrity. But I do agree that Thomas must be impeached, else we can never trust the Supreme Court again. With Barrett and Kavanaugh, we’ve already had cause to start mistrusting, especially after Dobbs and a couple of other decisions. Hmmmmm … so you want to be appointed, eh? Well … I think you’d make a great Justice! And ha ha regarding speed limits! I was stopped for speeding once and when the officer informed me I had failed to follow the law, I told him I always followed the law “if it makes sense”, but that I thought the posted limit in that place made no sense. I got off with a warning!

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      • I might have told the officer he could get back in his cruiser and you would follow him wherever he went as long as it wasn’t to jail. I actually came out of a neighboring county back before the local law was allowed to cross county lines with the sheriff behind me. I think I was holding it around 95 mph at the time even though i had driven 120 a few times. As soon as I crossed the line I got out and talked to the sheriff and the deputy with him. One of them was laughing but I don’t think it was the sheriff. I just smiled at him and told him to have a good night.

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  5. Jill, for Clarence Thomas to say he did not know he needed to report these gifts is a legalistic “the dog ate my homework.” Really Clarence? Even if the gifts were on the up and up, not saying they were, they needed to be reported. This was a dereliction in responsibility. To hold people to account with the law, this failure of stewardship is unbecoming of a justice or judge. Keith

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    • Oh he knows … he just believes he is above the law, which is why I think he must be impeached to prove that NOBODY is above the law. If he isn’t, then the Supreme Court will have completely lost any integrity it once had. Full stop.


      • Jill, it certainly warrants a Congressional investigation. Accepting this behavior without question because he favors your belief construct does not make it OK. That is a lesson for all. We deserve better than a hall pass to allegedly cheat. Keith

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