Clarence Thomas’ Ethics ProblemsPosted: June 19, 2011
We’ve written before about Clarence Thomas and the number of conflicts of interests that he has ignored in the past.
Bostonboomer wrote this piece back in February about Thomas and Citizen’s United. This was a follow-up to a piece she wrote in January when Thomas was been criticized for not reporting his right wing activist wife’s lobbying income. Many liberals–including Rachel Maddow–have argued that cyber stalking of Anthony Weiner and the resultant media frenzy to force Wiener’s resignation may be related to a letter Weiner wrote Thomas in February. That letter requested Thomas remove himself from from cases challenging the constitutionality of the Health Care Reform Act given his wife Gini Thomas’ lobbying activity for Liberty Central against the law.
Talk Progress discovered several ethics lapses this year alone for Justice ‘Long Dong Silver’ of coke bottle and sexual harassment fame. Thomas has attended many Koch-sponsored political fundraisers. Now, the NYT has evidence that Thomas keeps accepting expensive gifts from one particular conservative real estate trust fund baby and fails to report many more. Any one with a good amount of familiarity with American history will know that 40 years ago, Justice Abe Fortas was forced to resign under the same circumstances. Recently, it was found out this right wing political donor not only contributed to Thomas’ pet projects like the Pin Point museum in Georgia which features Thomas’ birth place, but he’s received incredibly expensive gifts ranging from a $19,000 bible once owned by Frederick Douglass and $500,000 to seed Thomas’ wife Tea Party organization. Thomas has also accepted a $15,000 gift from the American Enterprise Institute who wrote a brief in a case that appeared before the court. Thomas did not recuse himself.
The NYT’s reports that Harlan Crow, a Dallas real estate tycoon and a major contributor to conservative causes–gave the essential backing of $175,000 to fund the museum, the previously mentioned $19,000 bible, and $500,000 for Gini Thomas’ organization. There’s also some pretty nice meals and parties included in the gift package along with time spent in yachts and vacation spots. Thomas failed to report a good deal of this.
We’ve reached the point at which calls for Thomas to resign should be coming from Democrats in Congress and Republicans concerned with corruption. Gini Thomas’ organization has actively been involved with lobbying for causes that include laws that will appear before the Supreme Court. Weiner was right in pointing out the obvious conflict of interest. This is the analysis from TPM.
Some degree of conflict of interest is inherent in any judge’s professional life — Justice Sonia Sotomayor, for instance, saw it necessary to recuse herself from at least 141 cases before she joined the Supreme Court — but when it comes to ethical complications on the nation’s highest court, Clarence Thomas takes the cake. Of particular concern is Thomas’ wife, Virginia, who founded a Tea Party-affiliated group called Liberty Central that opposes various progressive causes, including health care reform — an issue that’s almost certain to come before her husband’s court.
But an increasing number of revelations about Clarence Thomas’ own activities are raising questions about his impartiality.
So, who is Harlan Crow? The Times mentions the two men met about the time Thomas was placed on the court. Here’s a brief bit on that from Truth Dig.
After U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas secured a financial favor that led to the preservation of an aging cannery site in the community of his birth in Georgia, legal ethicists are voicing concerns over his friendship with Harlan Crow, a Dallas real estate magnate and contributor to conservative causes.
Crow’s donation to what appears to be Justice Thomas’ pet project is cause for wonder over how the judge’s rulings might be influenced by his benefactor’s politics. Federal judges are required to adhere to a code of ethics that bars them from raising money for charitable causes for precisely that reason. But Supreme Court justices are not. Crow, who has donated almost $5 million to Republican campaigns and conservative groups, is a known contributor to Thomas’ political advocacy group, Liberty Central, which opposed President Obama’s health care legislation last year.
Mr. Crow, 61, manages the real estate and investment businesses founded by his late father, Trammell Crow, once the largest landlord in the United States. The Crow family portfolio is worth hundreds of millions of dollars and includes investments in hotels, medical facilities, public equities and hedge funds.
A friend of the Bush family, Mr. Crow is a trustee of the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation and has donated close to $5 million to Republican campaigns and conservative groups. Among his contributions were $100,000 to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the group formed to attack the Vietnam War record of Senator John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, and $500,000 to an organization that ran advertisements urging the confirmation of President George W. Bush’s nominees to the Supreme Court.
Mr. Crow has not personally been a party to Supreme Court litigation, but his companies have been involved in federal court cases, including four that went to the appellate level. And he has served on the boards of two conservative organizations involved in filing supporting briefs in cases before the Supreme Court. One of them, the American Enterprise Institute, with Mr. Crow as a trustee, gave Justice Thomas a bust of Lincoln valued at $15,000 and praised his jurisprudence at an awards gala in 2001.
The institute’s Project on Fair Representation later filed briefs in several cases, and in 2006 the project brought a lawsuit challenging federal voting rights laws, a case in which Justice Thomas filed a lone dissent, embracing the project’s arguments. The project director, an institute fellow named Edward Blum, said the institute supported his research but did not finance the brief filings or the Texas suit, which was litigated pro bono by a former clerk of Justice Thomas’s.
So, Crow is another right wing trust fund baby interested in preserving his hand downs.
There are a number of reasons Justice Thomas might be thankful to Mr. Crow. In addition to giving him the Douglass Bible, valued 10 years ago at $19,000, Mr. Crow has hosted the justice aboard his private jet and his 161-foot yacht, at the exclusive Bohemian Grove retreat in California and at his grand Adirondacks summer estate called Topridge, a 105-acre spread that once belonged to Marjorie Merriweather Post, the cereal heiress.
Christopher Shaw, a folk singer who said he had been invited several times to perform at Topridge, recalled seeing Justice Thomas and his family “on one or two occasions.” They were among about two dozen guests who included other prominent Republicans — last summer, the younger Mr. Bush stopped by.
“There would be guys puffing on cigars,” Mr. Shaw said. “Clarence just kind of melted in with everyone else. We got introduced at dinner. He sat at Harlan’s table.”
The most interesting thing to read in all of the articles I’ve cited is the number of legal experts that consider this to be unethical at the very least. It also appears that Justice Thomas has reporting problem when it comes to gifts since it was pointed out in 2004 that his gift list was much bigger than the other members of SCOTUS. Since then, his gift list is empty.
Beyond the code, the justices must comply with laws applying to all federal officials that prohibit conflicts of interest and require disclosure of gifts. Justice Thomas’s gift acceptances drew attention in 2004, when The Los Angeles Times reported that he had accumulated gifts totaling $42,200 in the previous six years — far more than any of the other justices.
Since 2004, Justice Thomas has never reported another gift. He has continued to disclose travel costs paid by schools and organizations he has visited for speeches and teaching, but he has not reported that any travel was provided by Mr. Crow.
Travel records for Mr. Crow’s planes and yacht, however, suggest that Justice Thomas may have used them in recent years.
In April 2008, not long after Mr. Crow bought the Pin Point property, one of his private planes flew from Washington to Savannah, where his yacht, the Michaela Rose, was docked.
That same week, an item appeared in a South Carolina lawyers’ publication noting that Justice Thomas was arriving aboard the Michaela Rose in Charleston, a couple of hours north of Savannah, where the Crow family owns luxury vacation properties. The author was a prominent lawyer who said she knew of the visit because of a family connection to Mr. Crow.
Justice Thomas reported no gifts of travel that month in his 2008 disclosure. And there are other instances in which Justice Thomas’s travels correspond to flights taken by Mr. Crow’s planes.
No wonder the right wing was eager to take down Anthony Weiner. It appears that Thomas has accepted gifts from organizations that have either benefited or filed briefs in support of decisions that he’s been party to. I’ll be waiting for calls from Congress to investigate all of this. Any bets on how long I’ll be waiting?