SCRUTINIZING CLARENCE THOMAS…. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has been in the news quite a bit lately, and none of the developments puts the far-right jurist in a positive light.
Court watchers continue to marvel, for example, at Thomas’ reluctance to speak or ask questions during high court oral arguments, but that’s only a mild curiosity compared to some of the more notable recent controversies. There’s also his wife’s bizarre right-wing political activism and lobbying efforts, though they have only a tangential connection to Clarence Thomas directly.
The more meaningful issues, however, raise questions about the justice’s veracity. We learned in January, for example, that Thomas was required to report his wife’s income on his financial disclosure forms, but for several years, for reasons that remain unclear, he chose not to.
This month, it’s an even more serious controversy that’s raising eyebrows.
Discrepancies in reports about an appearance by Justice Clarence Thomas at a political retreat for wealthy conservatives three years ago have prompted new questions to the Supreme Court from a group that advocates changing campaign finance laws.
When questions were first raised about the retreat last month, a court spokeswoman said Justice Thomas had made a “brief drop-by” at the event in Palm Springs, Calif., in January 2008 and had given a talk.
In his financial disclosure report for that year, however, Justice Thomas reported that the Federalist Society, a prominent conservative legal group, had reimbursed him an undisclosed amount for four days of “transportation, meals and accommodations” over the weekend of the retreat.
The event in question was organized by the right-wing Koch Brothers.
To be sure, whether Thomas “dropped by” or stayed for four days may seem pretty thin as scandals go, but the fact that he’s offered competing versions of events about this retreat matters. Indeed, in this case, Thomas attended an event where powerful conservatives discussed strategies for overturning campaign finance laws. This was soon followed by Thomas participating in a case related to campaign finance laws, and concluded with Thomas ruling to overturn campaign finance laws, giving the Koch Brothers considerably more political power.
If Thomas, as a guest at the retreat, was part of these strategy talks, then maybe he should have recused himself from the case?
For that matter, if Thomas is telling the truth and only “dropped by” the event briefly, why did he seek reimbursement for four days? Was this a gift Thomas failed to report? Or perhaps he claimed these reimbursements in order to evade taxes?
I’m still trying to imagine what the response would be if a similar situation arose with a center-left justice. How quickly would congressional Republicans raise the specter of impeachment?
If you missed it, Rachel Maddow had an interesting segment on this.
Update: Speaking of the Thomases, don’t forget to check out T.A. Frank’s 2007 piece on D.C. power couples.