Let's Take A Closer Look At Clarence Thomas

Written by Andrew Kreig
Published on January 24, 2011

By Andrew Kreig / Director's Blog

The Los Angeles Times published a remarkable story over the weekend about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas that deserves active follow up by bar authorities and the mainstream media, not simply legal reform organizations. We'll be pursuing this at the Justice Integrity Project. But first, we provide the basics with a link to the original story.

Los Angeles Times, Clarence Thomas failed to report wife's income, watchdog says, Kim Geiger, Jan. 22, 2011. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas failed to report his wife's income from a conservative think tank on financial disclosure forms for at least five years, the watchdog group Common Cause said Friday. Between 2003 and 2007, Virginia Thomas, a longtime conservative activist, earned $686,589 from the Heritage Foundation, according to a Common Cause review of the foundation's IRS records. Thomas failed to note the income in his Supreme Court financial disclosure forms for those years, instead checking a box labeled "none" where "spousal noninvestment income" would be disclosed.

Updates:
Reactions varied widely, as indicated below. Roger Shuler, one of our favorite legal commentators, called for criminal charges, as did an activist group that launched a campaign also for the Justice's disbarment.
 
Legal Schnauzer, Will Clarence Thomas get away with a federal crime? Roger Shuler, Jan. 25, 2011. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is amending financial-disclosure forms dating back more than 20 years, in an apparent effort to avoid prosecution for making false statements to the United States government. Hal Neilson, an FBI special agent in Oxford, Mississippi, undoubtedly wishes he had been given such an opportunity. He also probably wishes the mainstream press would try to make the kind of excuses for him that are being made for Clarence Thomas.
 
Meanwhile, the Washington Post helped spin the conventional wisdom: That the justice said he "erred" in failing for 20 years to report the income his lobbyist wife had obtained [to alter United States policies on a wide array of issues] -- and so he was filing the requiring disclosures. This from someone who never deigns to ask a question during oral arguments, and votes almost in lockstep with his conservative colleague Antonin Scalia to transform the nation's laws in ways remarkably consistent with his wife's lobbying.

In one of the first follow-ups, a progressive outlet essentially repeated the Los Angeles Times allegations: Think Progress, Justice Thomas Omitted His Tea Partying Wife’s Income From Financial Disclosure Forms, Ian Millhiser, Jan. 22, 2011. It's easy to envision why reporters, many of whom are fairly junior in this age of downsizing veterans, might tread very carefully on this kind of story, even if they work for a Democratic-oriented group such as Think Progress. Similarly, the ethics experts quoted -- each of whom have provided quotations in the past for stories upon which I have worked -- provided low-key, middle-of-the-road first impressions.

But I attended the Thomas hearings when I first came to Washington in 1991, and like others saw a travesty of justice and fair-minded inquiry that should blight the reputations of some of those who presided for as long as they are remembered in history. Additionally, the non-partisan group I currently lead undertook exhaustive scrutiny of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan last year before recommending against her confirmation. In that same spirit, we can do no less under these new circumstances and encourage others to do the same.

Updates:
Legal Schnauzer, Did Clarence Thomas Commit a Federal Crime by Hiding Wife's Income? Roger Shuler, Jan. 24, 2011. Does this mean a justice on the nation's highest court has committed a crime? The answer probably is yes. Will the legal system kick into high gear in an effort to protect one of its most exalted members? The answer to that definitely is yes-- in fact, it already seems to be happening.

Protect Our Elections, Protect Our Elections Asks DOJ To Prosecute Justice Thomas For False Statements, Jan. 24, 2011. Today, we asked the Justice Department to bring criminal charges against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas for making false statements on his Financial Disclosure forms every year since 2003 by falsely swearing under criminal penalty that his wife Virginia had no income. Justice Thomas signed these forms under oath after certifying that the information in them was true and accurate. Virginia Thomas worked at the Heritage Foundation from 2003 through 2007 and earned at least $120,000 each year according to the foundation’s Form 990s. She is now working for Liberty Central in a paid position according to its CEO Sarah Field.

Washington Post, Supreme Court won't be fully represented, Robert Barnes, Jan. 25, 2011. A combination of events, concluding with the question of which justices will attend President Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday night, has brought complaints, partisan charges and renewed scrutiny to the court. Justice Antonin Scalia's decision to give constitutional pointers Monday to the House Tea Party Caucus headed by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) prompted a debate among judicial ethicists about whether justices should associate with political groups that have clear interests on issues that will probably come before the court. Before that, the first anniversary of the court's decision to give corporations and unions a greater role in campaign spending brought renewed criticism from liberal groups and complaints about two justices from a government watchdog group.

New York Times, Thomas Cites Failure to Disclose Wife’s Eric Lichtblau, Jan. 24, 2011. WASHINGTON — Under pressure from liberal critics, Justice Clarence Thomas of the Supreme Court acknowledged in filings released on Monday that he erred by not disclosing his wife’s past employment as required by federal law.

In other political corruption news:

Washington Post, Bush officials violated Hatch Act, agency concludes, R. Jeffrey Smith, Jan. 25, 2011. At least seven Cabinet secretaries to President George W. Bush took politically motivated trips at taxpayer expense while aides falsely claimed they were traveling on official business, the independent Office of Special Counsel said Monday night in concluding a three-year probe.

Contact the author This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or comment