Calls mount for probe of Justice Thomas as Fox trial opens
Free travel worth millions of dollars, sweetheart real estate deals, and more. Welcome to the cash-filled world of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife, Virginia 'Ginnie' Thomas, who describes herself as the 'connector' between the far-right and the former Trump regime. | AP

WASHINGTON—Free travel worth millions of dollars, spanning 15 years. Sweetheart deals from that same Republican big giver for property in Georgia, unreported on ethics forms. Payments from a corporation that went out of business in 2006. And a spouse who’s not only a lobbyist but describes herself as “the connector” between the rightists and the former Republican Trump regime.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, not content with his $300,000 salary has broken numerous laws to earn the jet trips, the yacht trips and the expensive vacations he would have earned had he been a top corporate lawyer with a capitalist corporation.

Fox Corporation (we will never call them Fox News), more interested in profits than in honest journalism, is also on the carpet and actually in trouble today for knowingly and maliciously lying to the public and maligning a company over its role in the 2020 elections.

Welcome to the wonderful, cash-filled world of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, the High Court’s apparent walking, talking conflict of interest and welcome to the profit hungry world of the Fox Corporation which is ideologically aligned to Thomas. Profits before people is the capitalist motto by which they both live.

The ethics controversies surrounding the court’s most-senior, and now most-powerful, justice–driver of the tribunal’s five-member Republican-named majority—are just one of two big instances of corporate crime roiling the current political landscape.

Tucker Carlson, left, and former President Donald Trump, right, enjoy each other’s company at a golf tournament in Bedminster, N.J., July 31, 2022. Documents in the Dominion defamation lawsuit illustrate that the Fox corporation forced positive coverage of Trump’s vote fraud lies after the 2020 presidential election. Some Fox staff were pressured to toe the line, though others, like Carlson, needed no pushing. | Seth Wenig / AP

The other is the libel case pitting Dominion Voting Systems Inc., the voting machine manufacturer, against Fox Corporation and particularly its notoriously Trumpite commentators—led by Tucker Carlson– over their deliberate lies, with malice aforethought, about the 2020 presidential election being stolen from Donald Trump.

Even if that case doesn’t go to trial, it’s already exposed how in pursuit of profits, Carlson and the other Fox ideologues deliberately and knowingly lied about Dominion, accusing it of vote fraud by rigging machines in favor of Joe Biden in 2020. Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric Davis in Delaware who is hearing the case paused jury selection while the two sides try to work out a settlement of the $1.6 billion suit.

The case is being heard in Delaware because Fox, like most major corporations, is legally incorporated there. Delaware has been famous—or notorious—for decades for giving corporate officers maximum leeway to increase profits, control policies and line their own pockets, while not being answerable in any meaningful way to shareholders or society.

Fox’s motive for parroting Trump’s lies was greed. As it admitted in e-mails, if it tried to tell its heavily Trumpite audience the truth about Trump’s “stop the steal” falsehoods, they’d tune out and migrate to even-more ideological competitors. And tune-outs would lead to a decline in Fox’s ad revenue.

That’s what happened when two Fox reporters, playing it straight, said on the air after the election that Trump’s fraud claims had no evidence in back of them. Viewership and ad dollars dropped.

In their own private emails back and forth, Fox’s right-wing ideological commentators admitted they knew Trump’s vote fraud claims were outright lies. So, in a deposition, did Fox founder and longtime CEO Rupert Murdoch, a longtime Trump supporter who has since soured on the former Oval Office occupant.

But Carlson and fellow ideologues Maria Bartilomo, Lou Dobbs and Jeanine Pirro kept parroting Trump’s lies and “stop the steal” claims even though they knew, and said in the e-mails and memos, there was no truth to the claims. That contradiction apparently meets libel law’s standard of “actual malice” in reporting lies.

While the Dominion-vs-Fox case is on temporary hold, the case against Thomas is burgeoning.

And the thread running through all the demands for federal investigations, from the Senate Judiciary Committee’s majority Democrats and from good government groups, is the corporate greed they reflect, in the sheer amount of largesse showered upon Thomas and his wife, Ginni.

The dam broke when ProPublica reported Clarence Thomas had accepted millions of dollars’ worth of trips from Republican big giver Harlan Crow. It accelerated when inspection of his financial disclosure forms, filed every April 15, reported none of it. He also didn’t list the land deals with Crow, either.

Thomas calls the trips Crow provided on planes and yachts for years “personal hospitality,” and the court’s ethics forms say justices don’t have to disclose such personal gifts. But the ethics groups point out the yacht and the plane are both registered not to Crow, but to his corporations. That means not disclosing the gifts is unethical and illegal.

One big point all the demands miss: Not disclosing the gifts breaks ethics laws. But the ethics laws covering judges don’t ban the gifts themselves. In other words, there’s a loophole as big as a Mack truck for corporate-sponsored conflict of interest.

The Senate Democrats want Chief Justice John Roberts to clean up the mess, or Congress will have to. But Roberts turned the Senate Judiciary Committee’s demand down in 2012, when the panel first raised doubts about Thomas’s dealings, committee Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said.

“The Senate Judiciary Committee, which has legislative jurisdiction over federal courts and judges, has a role to play in ensuring the nation’s highest court does not have the federal judiciary’s lowest ethical standards.  You have a role to play as well, both in investigating how such conduct could take place at the court under your watch, and in ensuring such conduct does not happen again. We urge you to immediately open such an investigation and take all needed action to prevent further misconduct.”

Chief Justice Roberts could have solved the ethics mess 11 years ago by having his colleagues adopt the Judicial Code of Conduct, Durbin and the Democrats wrote. “Instead, according to ProPublica’s reporting, Mr. Crow’s dispensation of favors escalated in secret during the years that followed.  Now the court faces a crisis of public confidence in its ethical standards that must be addressed. In the coming days, the Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing regarding the need to restore confidence in the Supreme Court’s ethical standards.  And if the Court does not resolve this issue on its own, the committee will.”

“The fact that Crow purchased Thomas’s childhood home for the purpose of preserving it as a potential museum site honoring Thomas only adds to the egregiousness of the apparent violation,” Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington said in its formal complaint to both Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Judicial Conference of the U.S., which oversees ethics of lower-court judges.

“Other gifts received from Crow or organizations he is affiliated with–such as a $19,000 Frederick Douglass Bible and a $15,000 bust of Abraham Lincoln–also need to be taken into consideration.”

CREW Chair Noah Bookbinder explained: “Justice Thomas has accepted consistent and luxurious gifts to such an extent that they have subsidized his lifestyle in a way unimaginable for most judges, suggesting a use of his position for personal gain and a compromise of his objectivity. The Supreme Court has the final say on every legal case in America, so every justice must have the highest ethical standards to serve. Justice Thomas appears to have failed to uphold those standards and needs to be investigated immediately.”

Justice Clarence Thomas’s big cash benefactor Harlan Crow, seen here with former President George W. Bush. | LM Otero / AP

In his last 15 years of ethics forms, The only item Thomas reported was his wife Ginni’s position as founder and CEO of Liberty Consulting, an advocacy firm catering to right-wingers. Those forms mandate disclosure of income by the officeholder, but only in broad ranges, such as “$50,000-$100,000” and “$100,000-$250,000.” For family members, such as Ginni Thomas, no numbers are required. Neither is a listing of her firm’s clients.

But friend-of-the-court briefs in the Dobbs vs Jackson Women’s Health Care case—the 2022 ruling where Clarence Thomas and Justice Samuel Alito led the right-wing majority in deleting the constitutional right to abortion—showed Ginni Thomas was allied to more than half of the right-wing anti-abortion groups involved.

That’s even though both Thomases claim they don’t discuss each other’s business. And right-wing corporate donors give to those groups.

All this led the Senate Democrats and ethics groups to call for Justice Department and U.S. Judicial Conference investigations of corporate gifts and subsidies to the Thomases. A third group, Common Cause, has been doing so since Oct. 2016.

As a result, Common Cause joined with Alliance for Justice in a letter asking the U.S. Judicial Conference to refer the matter to the Attorney General for possible action under the Ethics in Government Act.

“Common Cause discovered in January that Justice Thomas had failed for at least five years to report the sources of income earned by his wife, lobbyist and political activist Virginia ‘Ginni’ Thomas, on annual disclosure forms all judges must file under the Ethics Act.

“Justice Thomas quickly filed amended reports for 21 years, explaining he omitted listing his wife’s employers because of a misunderstanding of the instructions on the disclosure forms.”

“But newly found copies of old disclosure forms indicate that Justice Thomas had properly completed them for at least seven years before he began checking “NONE” on the section seeking details about his wife’s employment. Those copies also indicate Justice Thomas failed to make proper disclosures for a total of 13 years.

“Other records, filed by Mrs. Thomas’ employers, indicate she was paid at least $1.6 million during the years her husband reported she had no income.

“Given that we now know he correctly completed the reports in prior years, it’s hardly plausible– indeed it’s close to unbelievable–that Justice Thomas did not understand the instructions,” Common Cause said.

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners. El galardonado periodista Mark Gruenberg es el director de la oficina de People's World en Washington, D.C. También es editor del servicio de noticias sindicales Press Associates Inc. (PAI).