Two new calls last week for federal prosecution of Justice Clarence Thomas on bribery charges could affect the Supreme Court’s decision-making this term. But the allegations are virtually unreported aside from small corners of the blogosphere.
In Washington, DC, a retired judge and an activist group separately called for prosecution of Thomas on charges of bribery and false statement on his sworn annual financial disclosure forms.
The advocacy group Protect Our Elections.org published the ad below calling for a national grassroots movement aimed at prosecuting and then impeaching Thomas. Much of their concern arises from payments to his wife concurrent with his vote in the 5-4 majority of the Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission decision in 2010 overturning federal campaign restrictions on corporations and unions.
Thomas failed to disclose these and other payments on his annual judicial report forms until Common Cause spotted the oversight in January. Common Cause and Protect Our Elections have since dug deeper. The former tends to describe the problems as ethical misconduct. The latter describes his actions as “crime.”
Its caption to the ad portrayed above says:
Virginia, Harlan, Clarence and David have been having a good laugh at our expense. How much longer will we let this go on? America’s citizens have had it with people in power who violate the law. That includes Clarence Thomas, who has used his position as a Supreme Court Justice to flout the law and enrich himself, his wife and their cronies through corrupt backroom deals with billionaires Harlan Crow, and Charles and David Koch.
Here’s what happened last week:
Lillian McEwen, a former federal judge romantically involved with Thomas in the 1980s, and the progressive group Protect Our Elections.org each urged his resignation and prosecution. In doing so, they went beyond a call by 46 House Democrats in October for a House impeachment probe of Thomas.
Thomas defenders have pooh-poohed the allegations but tend not to answer them in detail. Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathleen Arberg, for example, said the Thomas omissions on his disclosure forms were “inadvertent.” In February, Politico reported based on sources that Thomas told conservative supporters at a closed-door meeting that he and his wife, Virginia, would continue to fight for liberty despite baseless attacks.
Issues before the court this term include the constitutionality of the “Affordable Health Care Act” ─ the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s re-election campaign.
New Yorker legal columnist Jeffrey Toobin in August focused on that in “Partners: Will Clarence and Virginia Thomas succeed in killing Obama’s health-care plan?” Toobin noted that Thomas is arguably the most conservative justice since the 1930s and also that 74 House members have called for Thomas to recuse himself from the health care decision because “his wife has helped lead the public war against the Administration.“
Whether recent criticism would chasten Thomas and his supporters or stiffen their resolve is impossible to say. They have shown great resiliency in the past, but have never faced such specific charges on his track record.
The critic McEwen authored DC Unmasked and Undressed after 12 years as a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission judge.
Her memoir described her five-year relationship with Thomas in the early 1980s.“The mask he has worn for so long has slipped during the past 20 years to reveal dishonesty, greed, and abuse of the public trust,” she told me in an exclusive interview before her lecture Oct. 26 at the National Press Club that I helped arrange. “Fueled by self-hatred and resentment,” said the former federal prosecutor, Senate Judiciary Committee counsel and law professor, “Justice Thomas has allowed himself to be purchased.”
Her two-hour talk was the first time she has called for his resignation and prosecution. Now retired at age 66, McEwen described Thomas as her former best friend whom she left in the mid-1980s because of what she saw as his disturbing ambitions.
Regarding the disclosure forms, she said Thomas filled out the sworn forms correctly for his first years on the bench before he stopped. “Judges all over the country have to fill out this form,” she said. “He knew what he was doing. He was accepting a bribe through his wife.”
As the second development last week, Protect Our Elections.org announced that it has been working with the FBI and congressional Democrats since July on corruption allegations. The group called for a nationwide grassroots campaign to support the prosecution of Thomas and published a 12-page white paper it said it delivered to the FBI in July summarizing evidence for prosecution.
However, such charges are difficult to air. Investigative procedures at the court and Justice Department are inherently secretive. Watchdog groups and news organizations worry about seeming too aggressive, especially since their key players (including journalists, owners and donors) tend to have other business before the courts.
I have sought unsuccessfully to obtain comment from Thomas, the court spokeswoman, Arberg, and the billionaire critics accuse of improperly influencing Thomas – Harlan Crow and the brothers David and Charles Koch – and their corporate representatives.
As for the stakes, court analyst Edward Lazarus argued in his book, Closed Chambers, “The Supreme Court affects the life of every American every day.” For such reasons, it behooves each of us to describe this kind of information — and thank the Daily Censored’s staff for facilitating the process.
This column is excerpted from longer coverage with more sources at the Justice Integrity Project website