Justice Clarence Thomas

  • November 19, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    It’s not where he said it; it’s what Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito had to say about the ruling in Citizens United and the role of the federal government that warrants any kind of notice.

    Alito has long been defensive of the high court’s handiwork in a decision that gave more power to corporate interests to spend their expenditures on politicking. That 2010 high court opinion in Citizens United v. FEC overturned longstanding court precedent allowing for some regulation of campaign financing by corporations. During the 2010 State of the Union address, President Obama blasted the Court for trampling that precedent and added that it would become a boon for special interests, including foreign ones, and Alito was caught on camera uttering, “Not true.”

    Recently the severely conservative judge (he was far right as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit) again sounded a defensive note on Citizens United before the Federalist Society’s 2012 National Lawyers Convention. Alito, as reported by the Associated Press, said all kinds of newspapers and television news and opinion broadcasts, many owned by vast corporate interests, sound off on and provide endorsements of candidates.

    “The question is whether speech that goes to the very heart of government should be limited to certain preferred corporations; namely media corporations,” Alito said during a keynote address at the group’s 30th Anniversary Gala Dinner on Nov. 15. “Surely the idea that the First Amendment protects only certain privileged voices should be disturbing to anybody who believes in free speech.”

    Beyond defending the opinion, and shooting a few asides at critics of the opinion, Alito sounded what is a frequent Tea Party or rightwing talking point about ever-expanding powers of the federal government, saying that the views advanced by the administration in several cases before the high court revealed a vision of a society dominated by a towering federal government.

  • March 30, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Before this week’s marathon oral arguments in the case challenging health care reform, many legal scholars, had strongly argued that the challengers’ arguments did not have a serious chance of surviving Supreme Court scrutiny.

    Primarily the reasoning was based on high court precedent in favor of a broad reading of Congress’ power to regulate commerce and to tax and spend for the general welfare.

    But those perceptions have been rocked following three lengthy days of oral argument, in which Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito appeared to have bought the challengers’ arguments against the minimum coverage provision, and, at times, revealed utter callousness toward national lawmakers’ attempt to reform a terribly inefficient and exclusive health care system that has left tens of millions uninsured.

    Moreover as The New York Times columnist Paul Krugman noted, several of the justices appeared utterly or willfully ignorant of how “insurance works.” Krugman said Scalia’s comparison of purchasing health care insurance to buying broccoli “horrified health care experts all across America because health insurance is nothing like broccoli.”

    “Why? When people choose not to buy broccoli, they don’t make broccoli unavailable to those who want it. But when people don’t buy health insurance until they get sick – which what happens in the absence of a mandate – the resulting worsening of the risk pool makes insurance more expensive, and often unaffordable, for those  who remain. As a result, unregulated health insurance basically doesn’t work, and never has,” Krugman wrote.

    Walter Dellinger, former Solicitor General, at an ACS briefing on the oral arguments in HHS v. Florida, said it appeared, based mostly on their questions that three justices look ready to strike the minimum coverage provisions. Justice Samuel Alito’s questions were almost as hostile as Scalia’s and most, including Dellinger, believe Justice Clarence Thomas will vote to invalidate the law’s integral provision.

    But Dellinger (pictured) is still holding out hope that two more justices will not join those three in killing health care reform.

    “If there were five,” he said, “I would be shocked, because I think it would take us back to the jurisprudence of the 1920s. I think it would be the most stunning and indefensible judicial decision in half a century. It would be paired with Bush v. Gore in the law books forever.”

  • June 23, 2011

    Rep. Chris Murphy has urged leaders of the House Judiciary Committee to conduct a hearing consider a measure that “would end the Supreme Court’s immunity to judicial ethics laws,” Think Progress’s Ian Millhiser reports.

    Murphy’s letter follows a recent report in The New York Times about Justice Clarence Thomas’s connections to Harlan Crow, “a major contributor to conservative causes,” including allegedly providing $500,000 to Thomas’s wife, Virginia, to launch a Tea Party group that worked to scuttle the landmark health care reform law. Thomas, The Times reported, has received other gifts from Crow, who has also donated $175,000 to a museum being constructed in the justice’s birthplace of Pin Point, Ga., which undoubtedly celebrate Thomas.

    Common Cause, last year called on the Justice Department to look into other political connections of Thomas, as well as Justice Antonin Scalia.

    In a press statement following The Times story, Common Cause President Bob Edgar asked, “Has Justice Thomas been traveling on a developer’s private jet and yacht, on the developer’s dime, while reporting that his expenses were borne by someone else? Do Supreme Court justices get a pass on the ethical standards that every other judge must meet?”

    In his letter, obtained by Think Progress, to the House Judiciary Committee leadership, Rep. Murphy states:

    Recent revelations about Justice Thomas accepting tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of gifts from individuals and organizations who often have an interest in matters before the courts calls into question the Court’s impartiality. Canon 4D of the Code of Conduct incorporates regulations providing that ‘[a] judicial officer or employee shall not accept a gift from anyone who is seeking official action from or doing business with the court.’ Yet Justice Thomas received a gift valued at $15,000 from an organization that had a brief pending before his Court at the very moment they gave him the gift. Incidents such as these undermine the integrity of the entire judiciary, and they should not be allowed to continue.

    At the moment the high court justices are not bound by the code of conduct for federal judges, though they claim to adhere to it.

    In an editorial dubbed “Cloud Over the Court,” The Times said it appears that Thomas doesn’t “believe that he needs to adhere to those rules.”

    The editorial concluded:

    This case is the latest evidence that the Supreme Court’s voluntary compliance with the judges’ conduct code isn’t enough to protect impartiality and credibility. Justice Thomas seems utterly unconcerned with those rules. In January, he acknowledged that, over the last six years, he had failed to disclose his wife’s employment with conservative organizations, in violation of the 1978 Ethics in Government Act. The Supreme Court must adopt the rigorous code of conduct that applies to all other parts of the federal judiciary.

    Millhiser has more on the high court judicial ethics here.

  • October 25, 2010
    Guest Post

    By Sherrilyn Ifill, Professor of Law, University of Maryland School of Law
    Last week, most of the mainstream media seemed anxious to move on from the story of Virginia Thomas' bizarre early morning phone call to the office of Professor Anita Hill, in which she invited Hill to apologize to Thomas for "what you did with my husband." But The Washington Post's subsequent, explosive interview with Clarence Thomas' former girlfriend who has corroborated much of Anita Hill's 1991 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, has laid to rest the idea that this story is over. And indeed this episode is deserving of more attention. It's important because there are so many people who have no real memory of the Thomas confirmation hearings, or why they were so important. In their attempt to get past addressing Mrs. Thomas' bewildering conduct, some media outlets had dismissed the Thomas hearings as a mere "he said/she said" exchange of accusations. In fact, the Thomas hearings - both before and after the statements raised by Anita Hill were made public - constituted an important watershed moment in confirmation hearings, in our understanding of sexual harassment in the workplace, and even in our racial discourse. The temptation by the media to treat this as a non-story or to minimize its significance should be resisted.

    And in fact that's part of the story. Perhaps in part because the Thomas hearings were so painful, so ugly, so disturbing, Justice Thomas is often given a pass by the press. Some of his most inflammatory decisions on the Court - often in concurrence or dissent - are rarely remarked on by Supreme Court writers and bloggers. As I've suggested, even the problematic nature of some of Mrs. Thomas' political activities have been soft-pedaled by court watchers. But we should not soft-pedal history. These were the hearings at which Thomas assured the Committee that once confirmed he would hold no allegiance to the conservative views he'd advanced as a conservative darling and former member of the Reagan Administration. Long before Chief Justice John Roberts promoted the image of the "umpire" judge who just "calls balls and strikes," Thomas introduced us to another empty sports metaphor - promising that he would "strip down like a runner" and shed his earlier ideological views to be an impartial justice. Thomas also sought to reassure the Judiciary Committee and the public, that despite his earlier harsh words about civil rights leaders, and his own less than stellar stewardship of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), that he felt empathy (yes, empathy) for those less fortunate. He insisted that when from his office he could see a bus of prisoners in Washington, D.C., he felt, "there but for the grace of God, go I."

    But it was the hearings after Anita Hill's statements came to light that truly riveted the nation. Hill had worked for Thomas at the EEOC. Both were conservatives. Thomas had been serving on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals for little over a year when he was tapped by President George H.W. Bush who implausibly called the unremarkable Thomas, the "best candidate" for the job.

  • March 15, 2010

    While scholars question the legal principles espoused by the Tea Party, some are celebrating the organization's role in democratizing discussions of constitutional principles.

    "The content of the movement's understanding of the Constitution is not always easy to nail down, and it is almost always arguable," writes Adam Liptak in The New York Times. "But it certainly includes particular attention to the Constitution's constraints on federal power (as reflected in the limited list of powers granted to Congress in Article I and reserved to the states and the people the 10th Amendment) and on government power generally (the Second Amendment's protection of gun rights, the Fifth Amendment's limits on the government's taking of private property)."

    According to Liptak, by focusing on these elements of the Constitution, the Tea Party is helping bring our nation's sacred document to the forefront of national, political conversations. If that is a goal of the Tea Party, it may not hurt to have Virginia Thomas on board.