Democrats Call For Investigation Of Clarence Thomas
The Huffington Post reports:
“Democratic lawmakers on Thursday called for a federal investigation into Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas' failure to report hundreds of thousands of dollars on annual financial disclosure forms.”
Thomas failed to disclose his wife’s income on federal forms for 13 years. She “had hundreds of thousands of dollars of income from conservative organizations, including roughly $700,000 from the Heritage Foundation between 2003 and 2007.”
The LA Times reports:
“Thomas reported ‘none’ in answering specific questions about ‘spousal non-investment income’ on annual forms – answers expressly made ‘subject to civil and criminal sanctions.’” The purpose of the financial disclosure forms is to provide information as to possible conflicts of interest. The groups giving money to Virginia Thomas were groups that “had expressed direct interest in the outcome of cases that came before her husband, including Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, in which the court in 2010 struck down limitations on corporate contributions to elections.”
Rather than obligatorily recusing himself from a case in which he might not have been impartial, he chose to hide the possible conflicts of interest and remain on the case.
What was Thomas’ response to the discovery of the ethics violations? He wrote a letter to the court stating that the information was “inadvertently omitted due to a misunderstanding of the filing instructions” – a likely explanation, coming from a justice of the Supreme Court.
Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY), a member of the House Rules Committee, leads a group of 20 House Democrats in calling for an investigation into Thomas’ behavior. They are requesting that the Judicial Conference of the United States, which frames guidelines for the administration of federal courts, “refer the matter of Thomas' non-compliance with the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 to the Department of Justice.” Slaughter stated:
“The Attorney General would be the appropriate person to investigate the issue of non-disclosure, and that is why my colleagues and I are making this request today…I cannot determine guilt or innocence, but I can request that the government do our due diligence in investigating a situation that strikes me, and many other members of Congress, as suspicious.”
By itself, failure to report income from several sources is not a major issue. However, Thomas sits on a court whose decisions have a significantly greater impact on society than the decisions of the average American who may not disclose every source of income on a federal form. The question that must be asked is were there cases which came before the Supreme Court in which Thomas had conlicts of interest due to his mysterious sources of income? Certain facts have come to light about Justice Thomas' behavior that must be evaluated in orde to answer this question.
Thomas attended events in January 2008 funded by the Koch brothers, and was featured in promotional material for the Koch brothers “for events that sought financial and political support for conservative political causes."
According to Think Progress, in 2001, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), “a conservative, corporate-aligned think tank…gave Justice Clarence Thomas the gift of a $15,000 bust of Abraham Lincoln.” When AEI filed three cases with the Supreme Court, “Thomas recused [himself] from none of these three cases, and he either voted in favor of the result AEI favored or took a stance that was even further to the right in each case.”
Despite having been an attorney for the corporation Monsanto, Thomas refused to recuse himself when Monsanto brought a case to the Supreme Court in 2010.
These are just a few examples illustrating Thomas' possible non-neutrality in cases for which he did not recuse himself. It would be one thing if there were only one report of potential conflicts of interest. But, added together, these several instances of possible conflicts of interest in cases for which Thomas hid the conflict, or simply refused to recuse himself, may indicate that he deliberately decides cases in favor of organizations to which he has ties, and thus does not decide the law in fairness.
If the most respected judges in the United States can slide by on ethics violations, the precedent is set. Those who are supposed to uphold the law cannot themselves be above it. If anything, the standards for Supreme Court Justices must be higher, since they are the officers of the highest court in the land. This request for an investigation into the actions of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is the first important step in ensuring that the law is upheld in fairness.
The timing of this request is also important, since the Obama administration is now seeking a Supreme Court ruling on the health care law. Thomas’ wife founded Liberty Central, a group that opposed the law. In considering Thomas' conflicts of interest in previous and current cases, if the court is going to give a valid ruling on the health care law, perhaps he should recuse himself. Only then can the law be evaluated impartially.