April 14, 2023 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
Clarence Thomas keeps telling on himself. Are we listening?
He continues to think we’re fools, too.
The eldest member of the Supreme Court’s rightwing supermajority – let’s just say he keeps telling on himself.
Last week, ProPublica revealed that Justice Clarence Thomas had been palling around for decades with a rightwing billionaire, accepting luxury gifts virtually every year, including world tours on his superyacht. Yet the man who presides over the law, telling us what the law is, didn’t obey the law. Federal ethics statutes require disclosure of gifts of “anything of value.”
But he does think we’re fools.
In response to the report, he said, in so many words, that he didn’t determine himself what the law is, relied on someone else to tell him what it is, then failed to obey the law based on that other person’s misreading of the law, so it wasn’t his fault that he failed to obey it.
Then Thomas told on himself.
He said, well, he was “advised” that the law didn’t apply given that, you know, billionaire Harlan Crow is one of his “close personal friends.”
This is what I zeroed in on last week. I said that if I were a billionaire hoping to influence a justice, I’d want to do it without appearing to be doing it. One of the best ways of influencing without appearing to, I said, is by becoming one of the justice’s “close personal friends.”
The Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee have begun raising hell in response to ProPublica’s report. That’s good. The first branch of government should reassert its authority over the third. But, as I said, if the focus is things, the focus is wrong. The thing of value in this “close personal relationship” isn’t a thing. It’s the “close personal relationship.”
I stress this again, because Thomas did.
He told on himself, again.
This week, ProPublica reported that Crow bought the Thomas family properties in Pinpoint, Georgia. “The transaction marks the first known instance of money flowing from the Republican megadonor to the Supreme Court justice. The Crow company bought the properties for $133,363 from three co-owners — Thomas, his mother and the family of Thomas’ late brother, according to a state tax document and a deed dated Oct. 15, 2014, filed at the Chatham County courthouse.”
It’s weird for the “close personal friend” of a Supreme Court justice to become his elderly mother’s landlord. (She still lived in the house at the time of purchase.) But who am I to judge? The money is also small beer – $133,363 is a lot to normal people, but not to a real estate mogul.
That isn’t the point. The point is that a justice charged with telling the rest of us what the law is didn’t obey it. “The disclosure form Thomas filed for that year also had a space to report the identity of the buyer in any private transaction, such as a real estate deal. That space is blank.”
That’s when Thomas told on himself again.
“Harlan and Kathy Crow are among our dearest friends,” he said in a statement. “As friends do, we have joined them on a number of family trips.” Then Crow told on Thomas. The gifts, he said, were “no different from the hospitality we have extended to our many other dear friends.”
This is upping the ante.
In the beginning, when it wasn’t clear whether Crow bought influence – they were merely traveling together is all it was – they were “close personal friends.” Now that it’s been established that money changed hands, and that this money exchange looks like influence-buying, “close personal friendship” has elevated to “our dearest friends.”
At this rate, the Thomases and the Crows will be blood kin next week.
No one’s paying attention to the evolution of this relationship. We should. In it is pretty much everything we need to know about the problem. The best part? Thomas is telling on himself. He’s confessing.
He’s confessing four things.
One, that the problem isn’t a thing – gifts or money – but a relationship with a very obscenely rich man who can buy whatever he wants.
Two, that the justice might obey the law, even as he’s telling the rest of us what the law is, thus appearing to compromise his jurisprudence as well as the jurisprudence of the rest of the Supreme Court justices.
Three, that his jurisprudence may not be as compromised as it seems.
Listen carefully to what he’s saying. He’s saying that he didn’t have to obey a law requiring the disclosure of “anything of value,” not in spite of a “closer personal friendship” with a billionaire, but because of it.
In that, he’s telling us that he obeys a law higher than the laws of mere democracy, probably the law governing the bonds of patrician men. Because of his bond, Thomas has the right to preside over the law, tell the rest of us what the law is and hold himself as the exception to it.
And finally, that he knows that’s bullshit. He knows that the more we insist on him obeying the same laws everyone else obeys, and that the more he insists that he doesn’t – this is a matter of manly virtue, not a matter of democracy – the more the rest of us are going to raise hell.
So he lied.
It’s too late.
He already told on himself.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.