It’s hard to keep track of the various corruption scandals embroiling the Supreme Court generally and Justice Clarence Thomas in particular. The latest ProPublica report shows that Nazi memorabilia enthusiast and Thomas sugar daddy Harlan Crow has been using his super-yacht as a tax write-off, a trick he can pull off because he does “business” with people like Thomas on his boat. And I’m still processing The Guardian’s revelation that one of Thomas’s aides received payments—through Venmo—from the lawyers arguing against affirmative action. I was pretty sure Thomas had established himself as the most openly corrupt Supreme Court justice in American history on the strength of Crow buying Thomas’s mother’s house, but I guess he’s trying to make his record unbreakable by future generations of corrupt judges.
Of course, according to Wall Street Journal op-ed columnist and second-most-corrupt Supreme Court justice Samuel Alito, this is all political. Alito—who took at least one undisclosed vacation with a Republican billionaire—and the gaggle of white-wing pundits who would have you believe that paying tuition for another man’s secret ward is just what “friends” do, argue that reporting on the Supreme Court’s corruption is motivated by “liberal” media outlets who disagree with the court’s rulings.
Alito is… not wrong, after a fashion. But he’s telling on himself. The media is, finally, starting to report on Supreme Court justices like the political actors they are, instead of treating them like untouchable lordlings. It’s entirely common for the media to report on the corruption of public officials: Everybody from Donald Trump to Rod Blagojevich has been put on blast by investigative journalists. Alito, and the kinds of people who can afford to pay Alito, are bristling merely because justices are being investigated like any other public officials with power.
Moreover, it’s not like the media is only rifling through the receipts of conservative justices. The proof of that is the reporting on Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s children’s books. She’s made a lot of money on her books, and her aides are being accused of improperly pushing libraries to buy them. I’m not gonna lie: The fact that [checks notes] “selling your children’s books to libraries” is the liberal version of “selling your real estate to law firm partners whose clients regularly appear in front of the Supreme Court” (which is what Neil Gorsuch did) makes me feel morally superior. The desire of bothsidesism is so strong among the conservative media that it’s now looking into Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s finances, which seems slightly off-topic, what with her having been dead for three years. But whatever. I could defend the still-alive Sotomayor, but I don’t have to, because I have a better idea. The thing that will stop Sotomayor from hawking books is the same thing that will stop Thomas from hawking opinions: Supreme Court ethics reform. Stop it all, I say. The wife of Caesar must be above suspicion.
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The GOP Turns the House Judiciary Committee Into an Absurdist Spectacle
The GOP Turns the House Judiciary Committee Into an Absurdist Spectacle
It’s entirely possible that these kinds of ethical inquiries would not be happening if the conservative justices hadn’t appointed themselves the kings and queens of other people’s uteruses. People like me have been screaming about the unethical behavior of Supreme Court justices for years: Alito and his secret meetings; alleged attempted rapist Brett Kavanaugh and his disappearing debts; Clarence Thomas and Ginni Thomas and their whole unabashedly corrupt alliance. But nobody with any real power (except Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Representative Hank Johnson) cared. The corporate media (liberal and otherwise) called in all hands to figure out if one-term Representative Madison Cawthorne really had been invited to a hookers-and-blow party, but they couldn’t be bothered to figure out how nine of the most powerful individuals in the entire country spend their summer vacations. I promise you that if Democratic Senate majority leader Charles Schumer were taking free, undisclosed vacations at a resort filled with Nazi fetish objects, we wouldn’t have had to wait for ProPublica to find out about it.
Indeed, if Schumer, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, or President Joe Biden did half of what Thomas has done, there would be wall-to-wall coverage. News trucks would be parked outside their homes, and those officials wouldn’t be allowed to walk to the bathroom without reporters shouting questions at them about who paid for their hand sanitizer. Ironically, even though those leaders could be voted out of office when their terms are up, there would be demands for them to step down in the face of such corruption and scandal. It wouldn’t just be “political”; it would be a whole freaking circus.
Meanwhile, does anybody know where Clarence Thomas is right now? I don’t. Has anybody set up a position tracker like they did for Elon Musk’s plane? How many reporters and photographers have been assigned to shadow the Supreme Court justices this summer? We know when random congresspeople come home to their districts and visit their local barbershops for a photo-op over the summer, but John Roberts, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, can disappear like a fart in the wind for three months, without a full accounting of how he spent his time, and whom he spent that time with.
Despite some excellent investigative journalism, the daily corporate media is still failing at the job of holding the justices to account. It should be making this story more political, not less. The conservative justices have anointed themselves as rulers, with veto power over everything from whether we address climate change to how many mass shootings we must endure to whether students are allowed to get the $10,000 of debt relief the president tried to give them. They’ve declared themselves the final authority on cultural issues, including whether women and pregnant people are allowed to have health care and what kinds. If they are going to dictate what kind of country we’re allowed to live in, then they shouldn’t be able to sit on a beach without a school of reporters in snorkel gear waiting in the surf to see whom they’re sharing a cabana with and what kinds of laws their influencers want to attack next.
More intense coverage from the political media might be forthcoming, if only elected Democratic politicians would start making a bigger political fuss over this decrepit court. I’m sorry, but Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin’s polite letter-writing campaign simply doesn’t cut it.
Every Democratic candidate up for a seat in a federal election in 2024 should be running explicitly against Thomas, Alito, and their brand of smash-and-grab jurisprudence. President Biden should be threatening to cut the funding of the Supreme Court in the next budget if it doesn’t adopt ethics reform. Senators should be promising ethics legislation, over the objection of Senator Coal Manchin, and with the help of Ruben Gallego, whom they should all be supporting over Kyrsten (Brought to You by Pfizer) Sinema. And every single one of the 435 Democrats running for Congress should be promising to bring impeachment proceedings against Clarence Thomas. That is the lowest-hanging fruit. I want to hear every Republican defend free super-yacht vacations for a year while also defending one of the justices who took $10,000 out of their voters’ pockets. I can just about count to 218 that way.
Running against corruption generally works in American politics, but you have to be against it. You can’t just be “disappointed” by it or “concerned” about it, or some other word that indicates you lack the will to do anything about it. People can now see the Supreme Court feeding at the trough of personal aggrandizement like so many other gross politicians, and they are disgusted by it. The media, and the Democrats, should never let them look away. Voters should be made aware that a vote for Republicans in 2024 is a vote for Clarence Thomas and his conservative friends to get more handouts and freebies from rich people.