The Thomases’ active role in moving the country rightward should be a scandal, an outrage, and a fixed feature in our media. But it's not.
February 7, 2011- When it comes to the financial and ethical improprieties of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife, Ginni, there is only bad news and worse news. That's true not only in terms of what they've done but because there's so little reason to believe they'll ever be held accountable for their active role in tainting our judiciary with the money and influence of their wealthy, conservative GOP patrons.
The latest outrage is that Ginni Thomas is embarking on a new career: lobbyist for right-wing causes. But that's just the most recent in a string of recent news items concerning the Thomases' fast-and-loose ways with the law. It begins with a January 22 Los Angeles Times piece that reported Justice Thomas' failure to include his wife's source of income on his financial disclosure forms for the past two decades. These forms are essential to assessing whether a justice might face a potential conflict of interest when causes or individuals associated with his/her spouse come before the court. Thomas hastily amended his reports after Common Cause brought attention to the years between 2003-2007 when Ginni Thomas earned $680,000 working for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank funded by, among others, the foundations of the Koch brothers, the Coors family and Richard Mellon Scaife.
There are many snarky things one could say about the fact that the justice's failure, while entirely illegal, has gone unquestioned and unpunished by both the feds and most of the media. One could grouse about the special treatment angle — that the average American wouldn't get the legal benefit of the doubt in similar circumstances; or be allowed to file on a Saturday, when the federal government office is usually closed; or have their forms processed so quickly that by Monday, when the rest of the media caught up with the Thomas story, it was to say, in essence, "all taken care of, nothing to see here, move right along." Skeptics could claim to be perplexed that a Supreme Court justice, who hears the country's most complicated legal cases, could cite "misunderstanding of the filing instructions," especially given that he did file correctly prior to 1996, before suddenly becoming confused.
Journalist Brad Friedman, whose Brad Blog offers a detailed account of the Thomas fiasco, notes that this same set of circumstances would play out completely differently if the shoe were on the other foot. As Friedman told me, "If it were Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg not reporting a million dollars from working for ACORN, the right wing would be all over it and so would the press — until someone from the Department of Justice agreed to prosecute. The right wing, and eventually the media, would say that Ginsburg should have known the rule of law; they'd be all over her for receiving 'special treatment,' and she'd be gone in a week."
The worse-than-bad news here is not about the amended forms, or their peculiar circumstances. Everyone in DC knew that Ginni Thomas worked for Heritage, where she drew fire as early as 2000 for gathering resumes for appointments in a possible Bush administration even as her husband sat on the case that ultimately called off the Florida recount, effectively giving the presidency to George W. Bush.
The worst news on the disclosure front is Justice Thomas' failure thus far to acknowledge his wife's employment by Liberty Central, the Tea Party-linked organization she co-founded in January 2009, which, according to the New York Times, is "dedicated to opposing what she characterizes as the leftist 'tyranny' of President Obama and Democrats in Congress."
Not because it's a secret — again, everyone knows. But that's precisely the point.