-By Andrew Kreig
September 30, 2011- Twenty Democratic members of Congress wrote federal judicial authorities on Sept. 29 to request a formal Justice Department probe of Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas for failing to disclose junkets, other gifts and income.
A coalition of both black and white Democrats — including Judiciary Committee ranking member and Congressional Black Caucus co-founder John Conyers (MI) — told the Judicial Conference of the United States that it is required by law to seek a Justice Department investigation of the new allegations against Thomas and his wife, Republican political activist Virginia Lamp Thomas.
They are portrayed above at a fake swearing-in ceremony at the White House on Oct. 18, 1991. The late Democratic Justice Byron White assisted in the ceremony, which was rushed to accommodate Thomas supporters in town and to show the public that further criticism of Thomas was pointless because he had already ascended to a lifetime post. Chief Justice William Rehnquist, after mourning the death of his own wife, presided at the real ceremony on Oct. 23, which was kept private from the public.
Regarding the new controversies: Most of the allegations became public this year. They involve claims of undisclosed gifts, junkets, vast income and other conflicts, along with justice's failure to report his wife's earnings on annual judicial disclosure forms that he signed under oath.
"Due to the simplicity of the disclosure requirements, along with Justice Thomas's high level of legal training and experience," said the congressional letter to judicial conference secretary James C. Duff, "it is reasonable to infer that his failure to disclose his wife's income for two decades was willful, and the Judicial Conference has a non-discretionary duty to refer this case to the Department of Justice."
To be sure, the 20 signatures are relatively few from a 435-member, Republican-run House. Still, the letter marks a significant step in justifying a criminal probe for what Thomas defenders and the nation's oft-timid watchdog institutions trivialize as either oversights by a busy public servant or else potential "ethics" issues that have scant remedy as a practical matter.
I observed the start of the Thomas era first-hand by attending his 1991 confirmation hearings.
The hearings reached a dramatic point 20 years ago in early October as Thomas faced sexual harassment claims by law professor Anita Hill. She was the fellow Yale Law School graduate who had been a Thomas subordinate at two different federal agencies during the early 1980s.
In February of this year, I hosted Common Cause Vice President Mary Boyle on my "MTL Washington Update" radio show just after her group disclosed that Thomas had been hiding his wife's income.