Saturday, June 25, 2011

How 'bout that Supreme Court of ours?


"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."
-- CT Rep. Chris Murphy, in an interview with ThinkProgress

by Ken

At the moment, thanks to Sunday's NYT exposé:about his involvement in a Georgia development deal, Justice Clarence Thomas's ethical problems are in the news, but they certainly aren't new. Only this past February 4, Howie was asking, "When Do Impeachment Proceedings Get Underway For Clarence Thomas?," while I wrote "In re. Respect for the Law vs. Thomas and Scalia: Time for another round of our beloved game If the Shoe Was on the Other Foot.'"

Yesterday on ThinkProgress's Justice blog, Ian Millhiser had an exclusive report:
EXCLUSIVE: Rep. Murphy Says Thomas’ Actions Call Into Question Whether He ‘Can Continue To Serve As A Justice’

By Ian Millhiser on Jun 24, 2011 at 9:40 am

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.

Watch it:

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.
Finally, Ian notes, "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.'”


ThinkProgress Justice is highlighting some of Ian Millhiser's coverage of the Thomas troubles:
Lavish Gifts: Justice Thomas Caught Up in Yet Another Ethical Tangle (6/18/2001)
Political Fundraisers: What Role Have Scalia and Thomas Played in the Koch Money Machine? (10/20/2010)
Undisclosed Income: Justice Thomas Omitted His Partying Wife's Income From Financial Disclosure Forms (1/22/20111)
Conflicts of Interest: 74 Members of Congress Seek Justice Thomas’ Recusal From Affordable Care Act Lawsuits (2/9/2011)
His Family May Have a Stake in Citizens United: Is Ginni Thomas Getting Rich Off Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court Decisions? (2/4/1022)
Justices Have Resigned for Less: Justices Have Been Forced to Resign for Doing What Clarence Thomas Has Done (6/19/2011)

You have to figure that Justice Thomas's ethical problems are mostly more flagrant than some of his colleagues'. It remains to be explained how Justice Scalia, for example, failed to recuse himself from ruling on then-Vice President "Big Dick" Cheney's secrecy claims when he'd become a social pal. That's more than "the appearance" of a conflict of interest, which we're always told must be so resolutely avoided -- that's the genuine article. And what might we find if we looked into the affairs of Chief Justice Roberts and Justice XXXX?

Which brings us back to a point of Representative Murphy's that I've already repeated once, but feel a need to repeat again:

"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."

And now, as the Court releases a slew of decisions in the run-up to Monday's end of term, we're seeing the results: ruling after ruling hacking away at the remaining vestiges of reasonable restraint on corporations at the expense of the rights of individual citizens. Like the ruling throwing out the women's class-action suit against WalMart. Somewhere I know I saw a blurb for some media outlet's coverage of that decision, which summed up that the Court "preferred" that labor disputes be resolved elsewhere than in the courts. I wish I could find that, because it seems to me exactly right. Whether this is a good view or a bad view, the fact is that the Court isn't supposed to have any kind of preference. It's just supposed to be applying the Constitution to the law. We remember that from all the judicial confirmation hearings, don't we?

But the far-right-wing bloc on this court goes way beyond "preferences." You know that at least four justices have made up their minds by the time they read the third or fourth sentence of the briefs. Maybe it's just a coincidence, but the WalMart decision is freighted with especially ugly baggage: putting the screws not just to labor but to women.

Here's a quick stroll down recent-memory lane.
Supreme Court Strikes Down Ban on Health Data Mining (6/24/2011)
SCOTUS Dumps On States Rights To Give Legal Immunity To Big Pharma (6/23/2011)
WalMart Is Only the Second Worst Class Action Case This Supreme Court Term

We could go on and on (the exceptions to the pattern seem so negligible as to drive the point home). Now it's "Drug Prescription Data Mining Cleared By Supreme Court." Makes you wonder what the boys -- and even though there are three women on the Court, remember that the Gang of Five is all male -- have in store for Monday.

There's some grim irony in that the Roberts Court has been working frantically to make secure for corporations all the rights of individuals, individuals have been left with fewer and fewer of those rights.

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