Back in February 2011, Common Cause publicly questioned Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s ruling in Citizens United alleging Thomas had an appearance of conflict of interest and should have recused himself from the case. In summary:
“In a 5-4 decision, the U. S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations and unions have the same political speech rights as individuals under the First Amendment. It found no compelling government interest for prohibiting corporations and unions from using their general treasury funds to make election-related independent expenditures. Thus, it struck down a federal law banning this practice and also overruled two of its prior decisions. Additionally, in an 8-1 decision, the Court ruled that the disclaimer and disclosure requirements associated with electioneering communications are constitutional.” [....]
The impact of the Citizens United ruling prompted the President to weigh in on it saying, “With all due deference to the separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the flood gates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections. I don’t think America’s elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests.”
It should have come as no surprise that Common Cause (or even similar groups) would raise questions of whether Thomas had an appearance of conflict in the Citizens United ruling. Common Cause posted a petition on their web site calling for Thomas’ removal from the Court. As noted in the clip below, Common Cause took issue with benefits Thomas’ wife received and Thomas’ attendance at a political strategy and fundraising, closed-door event sponsored by Koch Industries, for starters.
Clearly, Common Cause saw “smoke” and correctly predicted the “fire” was not far behind. It wasn’t long before the dumpster dive into Thomas’s relationships, gifts and more would become public. The New York Times’ article last week created quite a stir, revealing a close friendship with lots of “perks” between Thomas and a Dallas real estate mogul named Harlan Crow who spends significant dollars on conservative efforts and even helped fund the launch of Mrs. Thomas’s Tea Party group. The article said Thomas received expensive gifts from Crow and is engaged in a special project to construct a museum that would not be possible without Crow’s money.
While funding of a museum dedicated to the early life of Pin Point GA may be a worthy endeavor, Justices are not supposed to take such gifts because the donor — or the donor’s acquaintances — may ultimately appear before them with an expectation of favor on their behalf. The more digging into Thomas’ rulings and relationships, the more it becomes apparent that’s what seems to have happened.
Most recently, Think Progress writes an article, Second Harlan Crow Connected Group Has A Perfect Litigation Record Before Justice Thomas that includes a list of cases Thomas ruled in favor of the Center for the Community Interest (CCI) — friend of Harlan Crow:
- City of Chicago v. Morales: The lower court struck down a law “making it illegal for members of criminal gangs to loiter and fail to obey an order to disperse.” CCI asked the Court to reverse that decision, and Justice Thomas wrote a dissent saying that he would reverse.
- Pennsylvania Bd. of Probation and Parole v. Scott: The lower court struck down a parole board’s warrantless search of a parolee’s residence. CCI asked the Court to reverse that decision, and Justice Thomas wrote the 5-4 decision reversing.
- Dickerson v. U.S.: The lower court upheld a statute cutting at the core of accused defendant’s Miranda rights. CCI asked the Court to affirm this decision. Justice Thomas joined a dissent which would have affirmed.
- U.S. v. Knights: The lower court struck down the warrantless search of a probationer’s residence. CCI asked the Court to reverse. Justice Thomas joined a decision reversing.
- U.S. Dept. of Housing & Urban Development v. Rucker: The lower court ruled in favor of public housing tenants who were evicted because their resident family members or caregivers violated drug laws. CCI asked the Court to reverse. Justice Thomas joined a decision reversing.
- Connecticut Dept. of Public Safety v. Doe: The lower court struck down a law requiring public disclosure of registered sex offenders. CCI asked the Court to reverse. Justice Thomas joined a decision reversing.
- U.S. v. American Library Ass’n, Inc.: The lower court struck down a federal law requiring many public libraries to use filtering software that prevents web browsers from showing some pornographic material. CCI asked the Court to reverse. Justice Thomas joined a plurality opinion reversing.
- Devenpeck v. Alford: The lower court held an arrest unconstitutional. CCI asked the Court to reverse. Justice Thomas joined an opinion reversing.
Eight cases goes beyond coincidence and is impossible to ignore. Is this sufficient evidence to remove Thomas from the Court? No doubt, doing so would open the floodgates to any litigation where Thomas rendered a decision. While some may not openly voice concern over Thomas’ activities, I’ll bet there is much discussion and further diving into Thomas’s and his wife’s personal relationships and any “perks” on all sides that are involved.
Normally, we’re exposed to woes involving money and sex in the political arena. So much so, we expect politicians to respond to the deep pockets of special interests that fund their campaigns. We fire back with the usual zeal to serve the people and not the special interests groups. And we watch some of them as they hopelessly watch themselves fall from grace when their arrogance gets the better of them when they sleep in the “wrong” bed. When it comes to our judicial system, ideology for the most part is the main attraction.
So why would a Supreme Court justice place him or herself in such a precarious position as what is unfolding with Justice Thomas? I believe it is because of the same reason that causes other public figures to do stupid things and think its okay because of their position, money and power. Namely, its entitlement and arrogance.
I recall watching with intrigue the Anita Hill hearings when Justice Thomas was going through a particularly unconventional and highly sensationalized confirmation process. That was quite a rocky beginning to his career as a Supreme Court Justice.
The dumpster diving into Thomas’ personal life juxtaposed with his rulings will undoubtedly continue. If there is more to uncover, and I suspect there is, the road ahead for Justice Thomas could be equally rocky as when he first began. If he’s forced to resign, he can always write a book, go on a tour … after all, this is America where anything is possible. In the meantime, this needs to be fixed.
Related Articles and Sources
Second Harlan Crow Connected Group Has A Perfect Litigation Record Before Justice Thomas | Think Progress June 23, 2011
Friendship of Justice and Magnate Puts Focus on Ethics | New York Times June 19, 2011
SUMMARY OF CITIZENS UNITED V. FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION | OLR Report CT General Assembly
Center for the Community Interest | Source Watch