Merrick Garland and Dick Durbin under pressure to act on SCOTUS scandal
Justice Clarence Thomas, in clear violation of U.S. law, has failed to disclose decades of questionable income. The Justice Department and the Senate Judiciary Committee must now move on the case. | J. Scott Applewhite/AP

WASHINGTON—More revelations about the corporate and right-wing ties of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, his lobbyist wife Ginni Thomas and his failure for almost two decades to disclose even minimal information about both have raised pressure on Attorney General Merrick Garland to name a special counsel and act in the case and on Senate Democratic Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin to investigate all the justices’ ethics—with an eye towards writing an ethics code for the High Court since the jurists won’t do so.

It’s the only path to solving the problem since it is obvious that the High Court won’t fix itself. Chief Justice Roberts has obviously known for years about every single illegal act and ethics transgression committed by Thomas but he has done nothing. Republicans in control of the House would jump all over a case like this if it were Democratic appointed justices involved in scandal but since it is Thomas, a staunch right winger, they will also do nothing. This leaves it up to the Justice Department and Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois to get the ball rolling.

Much has been said about the High Court having no ethics code with which to govern itself. This cannot be used as an excuse for inaction by the Justice Department and Senate Dems because the actions of Justice Thomas, particularly his egregious lies on financial transaction forms, are illegal — including checking “no” earnings when he and his wife brought in $700,000 in income from an extreme right-wing think tank. Beyond violating ethics rules that apply to all other judges and lawmakers, Thomas is in violation of a number of U.S. laws that apply to everyone.

The revelations about Thomas also throw yet another spotlight on the ways capitalists can secretly influence judges on the nation’s highest court—even if those moguls don’t specifically have cases pending there.

The latest disclosure involving Ginni Thomas was the revelation, first reported by Newsweek last September but repeated in news stories on April 17, that she earned $683,589 from the right-wing Heritage Foundation in 2003-07—and that Thomas didn’t even disclose her employment there, as required.

Meanwhile, Thomas himself collected $270,000-$750,000 in recent years from a real estate company, the Ginger Limited Partnership, which went defunct in 2006, the Washington Post reported. Ginni Thomas’s relatives set up Ginger and a successor, Ginger Holdings, which made the payments.

Jealous of private corporate lawyers

Thomas, jealous of private corporate lawyers who make millions of dollars more than his $300,000 salary paid by taxpayers, never listed either Ginger firm. He apparently felt he could go on forever this way, making up for the gap between his salary and what rich corporate lawyers make. He even found a way to enjoy trips on private jets and yachts, much the way many millionaire lawyers do.

Good government groups say his non-disclosure violates specific laws including the post-Watergate Ethics In Government Act. They demand Garland name a special counsel to investigate, and that the Senate Judiciary Committee hold hearings, then write an ethics code for the court.

Thomas has since “amended” his financial disclosures. The forms only ask justices to disclose ranges of income, not exact figures, except for book royalties and speaking fees.

Left unnoticed by the corporate media in all the brouhaha over his disclosure, or lack of it: A giant conflict of interest by the Thomases, given at least the appearance, if not the actuality of the justice being unduly influenced by the corporate class and its radical right allies.

The key point is whether federal officials, judges and justices included, should take any outside earned income from anyone at all, and especially from anyone—such as the corporate class—that always has business before the High Court.

“When a justice brazenly violates the law, he cannot be trusted to uphold that law,” said Rakim Brooks, president of the Alliance For Justice, referring to the 1978 ethics law. The Alliance noted in the court’s 2021-22 term, ending last July, Thomas sided with the corporate class on 72% of its cases. It did not list the percentages for the other justices.

“The rule of law is our most sacred treasure and Justice Thomas can no longer be trusted to protect it,” Brooks continued. “He has abused the power of his office for personal gain and given the American people more than reasonable apprehensions about whether he can be impartial.

“Justice Thomas should resign.”

If he doesn’t resign, to defend the Constitution Congress must “hold robust hearings to determine just how far this rot goes and how badly it has compromised the fair administration of justice.” That Brooks statement covers not just Thomas, but all the justices—and lower courts, too.

“The Senate cannot let this extraordinary display of corruption and lawbreaking go unanswered,” added Demand Justice Executive Director Brian Fallon. “Senate Democrats cannot force Thomas to resign or give him the impeachment trial he clearly deserves, but they can hold hearings to further expose Justice Thomas’s apparent lawbreaking and the Republican justices’ deep ties to far-right donors.

“As long as we are stuck with a Supreme Court made up of corrupt ideologues in the pocket of far-right donors, the American people deserve to know the truth.”

Not the only one

Thomas isn’t the only justice to make money outside the court. Virtually all of them do, but the money sources for the others are book royalties, teaching in law schools during the court’s summer recess, or giving speeches. One speech, though, by Justice Amy Coney Barrett, raised ethical eyebrows.

She spoke at an institution tied to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who introduced her—and who has led the Republican fight at the Supreme Court to obliterate campaign finance laws and regulations. The McConnell Institute also paid for her travel and accommodations.

As for the others, Republican-named Justice Neil Gorsuch earned $26,541.74 for teaching courses at the George Mason University Law School, well-known as an incubator of right-wing lawyers. So did Republican-named Justice Brett Kavanaugh ($25,541.66). Book royalties produced larger sums for Barrett ($425,000), Gorsuch ($250,308.44), and Democratic-named Sonia Sotomayor ($115,593.39).

The financial disclosure forms only mandate justices disclose the source, but not the amount, of spouses’ incomes, much less clients of the spouses. Thomas didn’t even list Heritage as a source for his spouse. In amending the forms, Thomas listed Ginni Thomas as CEO of her own company, Liberty Consulting, but not how much she made or her clients. She’s bragged to right-wing audiences that she and her firm served as a conduit between right-wing organizations and the Republican Donald Trump regime.

The forms also mandate justices disclose gifts, such as meetings and travel, unless they’re from close friends or close relatives. Justice Thomas used that loophole to keep under wraps millions of dollars worth of yacht trips and on a private jet from Republican right-wing big giver Harlan Crow. But Pro Publica discovered Crow’s companies owned the yacht and the jet. Both Thomases went on the trips.

It also discovered Crow paid above market price for Thomas’s childhood home in Georgia, where his mother, 94, still lives. Crow plans to turn it into a museum honoring Thomas.

All this prompted demands that Garland name a special counsel in the Thomas case and that the Senate Judiciary Committee hold hearings on the justices’ ethics, and write a strong ethics code. Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., promises hearings, but cooperation from the justices may be another matter.

He’s demanded before—almost 10 years ago—the court write a strong code for itself. Chief Justice John Roberts didn’t reply to the panel’s letter. Later, the Chief Justice left Justice Elena Kagan with egg on her face when she predicted four years ago he’d soon be forthcoming with a code, and he never did.

Durbin may have one more anti-Thomas piece of evidence to add to the case. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, now an economics and political science professor at the University of California at Berkeley, tweeted on April 17 that Thomas wanted, in 2010, to kill all High Court financial disclosures.

“Clarence Thomas not ONLY accepted free vacations and sold property without disclosing it,” Reich’s tweet reads. “THOMAS ALSO tried to KILL SCOTUS disclosure laws in his concurring opinion on the Citizens United decision.” SCOTUS is the nickname for “Supreme Court of the United States.”

In Citizens United, the Republican-named majority triumphed 5-4 in a case—backed by Republicans who were led by McConnell—to basically destroy all campaign finance limits for corporations, leaving only disclosures. Several years later that same Republican majority ruled corporations could keep their donors secret by using so-called “non-profit” groups and “independent expenditure” committees as conduits for their tsunamis of campaign cash. Which they have, in billions of dollars, ever since.

“Thomas insisted that SCOTUS should, ‘invalidate mandatory disclosure and reporting requirements,’” Reich wrote. “This opens Thomas up to ADDITIONAL scrutiny for DIRECT and PERSONAL conflict of interest. His actions drip with corruption.”

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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 tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.

John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.