Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 15, 2011

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.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Update: Speaking of the Thomases, don't forget to check out T.A. Frank's 2007 piece on D.C. power couples.

Steve Benen 10:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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Organized by the Koch brothers, who make their money in Oil and Gas.

I wonder what cases they (SCOTUS) was looking at around that time? Well, there was Exxon V Baker, the case springing from the Exxon Valdez oil spill. And what do you know, the SCOTUS decided that oil companies shouldn't have to pay for their misdeeds. To do so they had to pull law from their nether regions. It was the some of the worst judicial activism of my lifetime.

How surprising.

Posted by: nisl on February 15, 2011 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK

I am sure that liberals are losing a lot of sleep over the fact that Justice Thomas will be here for a long long time and there's nothing you can do about it. Too bad for you. Those of us who like a woman to be presentable have had to look at Ruth Bater Ginsburg for far too long now. Sonia Sodamayor and Elena Kagen are even worse.

Posted by: Mlke K on February 15, 2011 at 11:13 AM | PERMALINK

Oh, come now, Steve! This is nothing more than a high-tech lynching, doncha know?!

Posted by: Michigoose on February 15, 2011 at 11:17 AM | PERMALINK

@Mike K: There is something we can do about it. A Supreme Court Justice can be impeached for misconduct. Our judiciary is supposed to be independent of both the other branches of govt and the parties with cases before it. This matter raises for me genuine questions of independence worth investigating.

Not being "presentable" is not misconduct.

Posted by: jpeckjr on February 15, 2011 at 11:20 AM | PERMALINK

So Mike K wants a Playboy magazine instead of a book of laws.


Posted by: Kill Bill on February 15, 2011 at 11:28 AM | PERMALINK

And we wonder why there is a gender gap in partisan affiliation.

Posted by: bay of arizona on February 15, 2011 at 11:28 AM | PERMALINK

He is a rich, conservative, Supreme-Court-Justice, lawyer. He can do what he wants. This is not "a nation of laws" for people like him.

Now,following Michigoose's lead: Apologize right now for the high-tech lynching!

Posted by: DWOB on February 15, 2011 at 11:29 AM | PERMALINK

It's clear that Thomas has a personality disorder: extreme narcissism so easily wounded that he seems permanently enraged at all his real and perceived slights. Look at his own book: he recalls slights from waaay back and shows neither understanding nor forgiveness towards those he considers 'enemies.'

I think the reason he simply cannot engage orally in the court's arguments is because he knows his anger and rage are not fully under control and it would start to show up in the glaring light of argumentation.

Of course, this could characterize a great many so-called conservatives, but this is a SUPREME COURT JUSTICE. He should be committed to reason and balance, not to extremist ideas.

As for his misconduct. Why did Abe Fortas have to step down? Wasn't it because he 'advised' Johnson on matters that might have come before the Court?

Posted by: jjm on February 15, 2011 at 11:29 AM | PERMALINK

Maye Thomas cant say anything because his wife has said too much.

Posted by: Kill Bill on February 15, 2011 at 11:30 AM | PERMALINK

It is just going to so much fun watching liberals when this idiotic campaign against Thomas blows up in their faces and ends up forcing Kagan to recuse herself when the health care law gets before the Court because she was Solicitor General when her office more than likely worked with DOJ on defending the ACA in the lower courts.

Posted by: Chicounsel on February 15, 2011 at 11:32 AM | PERMALINK

My thoughts exactly !
Not only sugar and cream , but candy too .
The needs of deep thinking Americans are not to be overlooked again . As with many hurt and injured feelings , a mommy is Needed , to kiss boo boo's and make very thing alright again . Assuaging the formal need for pretty in the lofty logic of Olympian standards of the sober right wing curmudgeons is a task of the first order . This simply cannot be satisfied with mere flesh and blood humans , who may hem and haw when dithering over whether a Republican trillion is equal to an "Obama" trillion . The continuity in such deep thoughts can easily be met with the typical rigour of "Conservative" "Thinking" where miracles of comparison and evaluation are produced with the ease of quaffing three early lunch mint juleps .

Posted by: FRP on February 15, 2011 at 11:35 AM | PERMALINK

The veracity of Clarence Thomas is certainly open to question on this. He lied about Anita Hill under oath before the Senate Judiciary Committee. It isn't a matter of "he said, she said". It's been established; there's lots of evidence. He also almost certainly lied when he testified that he had never even discussed the issue of abortion with anyone.

Posted by: t case on February 15, 2011 at 11:36 AM | PERMALINK

Clancy the Supreme Clown could have recused himself from the case as far as any of us would ever know. After all, he NEVER asks a question, writes an opinion or seems engaged in any matter than comes before the court. As far as I am concerned, Clancy has recused himself from his job. Period.

Posted by: Bo on February 15, 2011 at 11:38 AM | PERMALINK

Who's this 'Mlke K' shit sandwich?

Posted by: Brian on February 15, 2011 at 11:44 AM | PERMALINK

This becomes more ridiculous and more disgraceful by the month. As a former federal employee I was required to take an oath, I was not allowed to accept meals or other gratituities from lobbyists or advocates, I was required to report any investments I owned on annual disclosure forms, and when I worked for the IRS my tax return was audited every year. Supreme Court Justices like Thomas and Scalia obviously think the laws for the rest of federal employees do not appy to them.

Posted by: max on February 15, 2011 at 11:44 AM | PERMALINK

At the time of the confirmation hearings for C. Thomas, SCOTUS, Orrin Hatch stated that C. Thomas was a good man, and we know that Hatch, the waffling POL never lies.

Posted by: Ted76 on February 15, 2011 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

There seems to be a bit of difference between:

Having a previous position heading a government office that deals in various issues as part of its function, and

Voluntarily accepting meals, transportation, and hotel while currently being in a position to pass judgement on issuees advocated by and with huge monetary stakes to the very guys paying for that stuff. Besides just publicly aligning yourself with one side of their issues by being there and making a speech, short or long.

Posted by: emjayay on February 15, 2011 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

also, who's this 'Chicounsel' who couldn't find his ass w/both hands and a flashlighr?

Posted by: Brian on February 15, 2011 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

Why assume only a tangential connection?

"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."

He's directly ruling on lots of issues on his wife's side. Citizens' United for example.

Sure as heck looks like he was bought and paid for.

Posted by: Samuel Knight on February 15, 2011 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK


Mlke K is, as far as I know, a parody poster. Don't let him upset you. I personally don't understand parody posters on boards like this, since sarcasm doesn't carry well via text. Although I definitely appreciate the writing, especially of RepublicanPointofView.

I don't know Chicounsel. And even if he/she/it is serious, well, it doesn't matter.


Posted by: Mitch on February 15, 2011 at 12:06 PM | PERMALINK

I AGREE there seems to be a serious conflict of interest here. For Thomas and his wife to take money from people with direct financial and political interest in Supreme Court decisions is unseemly at best and verges on quid pro quo at worst.

As was true with Caesar's wife, Supreme Court Justices should be above suspicion.

Posted by: KurtRex1453 on February 15, 2011 at 12:06 PM | PERMALINK

Sure as heck looks like he was bought and paid for.

Ya think? Of course he is. Thomas was never anything more than a big, sloppy "fuck you" to Democrats in general, and liberals in particular. Poppy wanted to ram it up there nice and hard, so he picked Thomas.

Thomas was a mediocre lawyer, and mediocre judge, aside from his savagely right-wing politics, and he never would have made it to the court at all, except that Poppy Bush wanted to screw the Dems as hard as possible. And, of course, idiots like Biden helped.

Thomas knew what his role was, and he's played it to perfection: plutocrats want something? Give it to them? Authoritarian government by the right wants something? Give it to them. Democrats want something? Always deny them.

The guy is a corrupt hack, and has been since he made it to the SCOTUS by essentially lying his ass off under oath. It was obvious to anyone who watched the original confirmation hearings that Thomas was--and no doubt still is--a pathological liar.

Posted by: LL on February 15, 2011 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK

The lack of substance by Republican voices continue to discourage. Mlke K is critical of the female members of the Supreme Court due to appearance apparently, they just aren't hot enough. It's insulting and juvenile but consistent with a party that celebrates Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann who are attractive but woefully ignorant and prone to easily dismissed lies.

Posted by: Kathryn on February 15, 2011 at 12:10 PM | PERMALINK

In typical right wing whackjob nutbag fashion, Mike K was given enough rope and he hung himself.

Mike, you dumb fuck, judges can be impeached. to my knowledge, none ever has, but then again, we've never seen this level of partisanship and outright collusion/corruption on the court with corporate interest before either.

Posted by: citizen_pain on February 15, 2011 at 12:19 PM | PERMALINK

Brian, "Mlke K" is a parody -- and a spot-on one at that -- of a well-known conservative true believer who posts here occasionally.

Chicounsel is only a parody of himself, especially when you consider that he claims to have a law degree. For example:

when her office more than likely worked with DOJ

That right there is Chicounsel admitting he doesn't have facts.

In any case, the arguments for recusal couldn't be more different. Kagan occupied a position in the Justice Department that subject to transparency and accountability, and as Chicounsel admits, there's no evidence that she worked directly on the case now before the Court.

Thomas may well have a financial interest in the case presently before him, and may have strategized with some of the financial backers of one position. As you can see from his postings, Chicounsel doesn't care about the appearance of corruption, merely believing he's scoring points for his team.

Shame on you, Chicounsel.

Posted by: Gregory on February 15, 2011 at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK

we really should ignore Mike K. He's just a troll. And no doubt, an ugly one.

Posted by: LL on February 15, 2011 at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK

It's unlikely that anyone "drops by" Palm Springs. I'd like to know how he got there. Private plane directly there would be my best guess. Whose plane? For those who don't know, Palm Springs is a 2 hour drive from LAX in good traffic, and it's not on the way to anywhere. Ontario airport is a little closer, but not a lot. "Drop by" is ridiculous - it takes a lot of planning and time to get there if you don't already live in S. CA. Why lie if there is nothing to hide?

Posted by: Fess on February 15, 2011 at 12:46 PM | PERMALINK

I didn't think it was possible for someone to be stupid enough to misspell the names of three different Supreme Court justices in a single comment, but Mike K. proved me wrong.

And of course you value prettiness over intelligence in your public figures. Sure explains Dubya and Caribou Barbie, right?

Posted by: TR on February 15, 2011 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

Thomas's former mistress has now corroborated much of what Anita Hill said during Thomas's confirmation hearings, which means THOMAS COMMITTED PERJURY. The mistress also said Thomas didn't want her to admit to the affair if she was called to testify, which means THOMAS IS GUILTY OF TAMPERING WITH THE TESTIMONY OF A POTENTIAL WITNESS.

Now we find out from Thomas's own disclosure reports he is a paid hooker for the Koch Bros. The anti-democratic duo gave him a lousy resort vacation, --- he gave away our county. Talk about a corrupt cheap floozy.

Impeach Thomas. Let him do what he would have preferred to do all along if his Tea Party nag-hag would have only allowed him to--- sit at home in his underwear with his porn.

Posted by: lou on February 15, 2011 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

I doubt that there is anything here that rises to the level of an actual ethics violation, although it does appear unseemly for a Supreme Court Justice to attend what sounds like a fairly partisan event.

However, Thomas should really be made to answer some questions about this. Reimbursement for 4 days in a resort area sounds like compensation over and above the reimbursement of expenses that he would have us believe it to be. Straightforward reimbursement would ordinarily cover one night, two at the most, at an event. I'm thinking Thomas used this as a free long weekend in a luxury resort. As such, he should have reported this, or at least some of it, as income.

And the fact that his spokesperson describes it as a "brief drop by" appears to be simply misleading.

This, coupled with his failure to report the fact of his wife's income, is really troubling, and suggests a man who has become, at best, extremely careless about his professional ethical responsibilities.

Posted by: DRF on February 15, 2011 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK

Thomas made a "brief drop-by" and gave a talk on the artistic merit "Long Dong Silver.

Later we'll find out that Thomas was really only at the event for the hookers and cocaine.

Posted by: Winkandanod on February 15, 2011 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

Thomas and Scalia should not be attending these political events. Period. The appearance of impropriety alone would persuade any sensible Justice not to attend. It's one thing to address right-leaning organizations like the Federalist Society; it's quite another to attend and participate in events that are political in nature and advance the interests of one political party. Is it any surprise that these clowns voted the way they did in Citizens United?

Posted by: ameshall on February 15, 2011 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

Clarence Thomas marinates himself in his resentments to an extent not often seen outside a 12 step group!
Thomas is one angry man who never forgives and never forgets- not a good mix for a Supreme Court justice.

Odd that he is an outspoken Christian- but maybe the evangelicals changed Jesus' tenets since my Sunday school days.

As for the troll, at first I thought people were talking about Anton Scalia, who looks like one.

Posted by: Tservo on February 15, 2011 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

Thomas's former mistress has now corroborated much of what Anita Hill said during Thomas's confirmation hearings, which means THOMAS COMMITTED PERJURY. The mistress also said...

I yield to no one in my contempt for Thomas, but the woman to whom you refer was his girlfriend. They had a relationship before he was married. "Mistress" is not only a wildly anachronistic term; it also doesn't fit in this case.

Posted by: shortstop on February 15, 2011 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

It has become plainly obvious that Clarence Thomas is the Supreme Court roadie! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on February 15, 2011 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

So Chi"counsel" doesn't have any idea what "conflict of interest" means. Just par for the course for our stupid fake-lawyer troll.

Posted by: calling all toasters on February 15, 2011 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

To Milkey: Sonia couldn't "sod a mayor", or anyone else for that matter; she's of wrong sex. Just sayin'...

Posted by: exlibra on February 15, 2011 at 5:23 PM | PERMALINK

As it happens, Justice William O. Douglas had countless conflicts of interest, but he managed to keep them hidden. they were discovered years after his death and long after he's largely been forgotten. A living left-of-center justice would have been crucified.

the problem here is that Common Cause, a genteel, somewhat elitist org, is a little late to the table on this unless they're planning to push for some sort of discipline (?disbarment). I used to be a CC member and came to the conclusion that they were anti-democratic in a "good govt" sort of way and rather infectual and insiderish in their tactics. I have to wonder what clout they have with establishment figures these days and why they didn't bother sooner---there were obvious problems with Thomas, in particular, in the campaign finance decision.

Posted by: Rich on February 15, 2011 at 6:36 PM | PERMALINK

Self-loathing. Uncle Tom. A disgrace. A man who allowed himself to be used by Republicans as a slap in the face to democracy. A token. Utterly undeserving and incompetent. Did I mention Thomas is a disgrace?

There, I said it. Yes, that's what I really think. Sue me.

Posted by: June on February 16, 2011 at 12:57 AM | PERMALINK



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