April 20, 2023 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
Why is Justice Clarence Thomas telling us he’s above the law?
There’s no downside to telling the truth.
You know I’ve been reading up on the eldest member of the rightwing supermajority of the United States Supreme Court. Something I have noticed, not for its presence but for its absence, is that Clarence Thomas keeps saying things that, if it were anyone but a justice saying them, would cause reasonable people to wonder: why is he telling us he’s above the law?
Allow me to remind you of the stakes for the Republicans. They have succeeded in tipping the balance of power in this country so that redhat authoritarians are emboldened, now with the backing of the highest court in the land, to mount aggressive campaigns to return their respective states to their natural states of authoritarianism.
That gambit has always depended on respectable white people continuing to believe that one-ninth of the Supreme Court knows what he’s doing. On the strength of that competence, they continue trusting the court. On the strength of that trust, authoritarians keep pushing their respective states to the edge of respectable American politics.
This is why the Stern Fathers of the Party insisted that Justice Thomas had no connection whatsoever to the J6 insurrection despite his spouse, Ginni Thomas, being intimately entangled in it. Sure, she had urged Donald Trump’s chief aide to “stop the steal.” Sure, she had ingratiated herself with election officials in swing states. But that had nothing to do with her husband, they said. He knows what he’s doing!
If there were anything to worry about, they said, Justice Thomas would have recused himself from cases related to Donald Trump’s failed coup d’etat. But, they told us, there was never anything to worry about!
Ginni Thomas reinforced that. Her activism had nothing to do with her husband’s jurisprudence and his jurisprudence had nothing to do with her activism. “I can guarantee that my husband has never spoken with me about pending cases,” she said. “It’s an iron-clad rule in our home.”
She said: “It is laughable for anyone who knows my husband to think I could influence his jurisprudence – the man is independent and stubborn, with strong character traits of independence and integrity.”
Yet for all his “independence and integrity,” Justice Thomas could not figure out normal instructions to normal federal tax forms that require normal federal tax filers to disclose spousal earnings. For four years, despite Ginni Thomas receiving as much as $700,000 from the Heritage Foundation, Justice Thomas said that she had no income at all. Later, he said oops “due to a misunderstanding of the filing instructions.”
That isn’t the only thing he didn’t understand.
He didn’t understand that hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of overseas trips should have been reported, according to federal disclosure law. He didn’t understand that gifts of such size, value and magnitude are not “personal hospitality.” He didn’t understand that the Texas real estate magnate who paid for them is not a normal person who invites “close personal friends” over for a weekend stay.
He didn’t understand the requirement by federal disclosure law to report the sale of three family properties to the same billionaire. He didn’t understand that a firm closely held by his wife’s family kept providing hundreds of thousands in income after the firm ceased to be.
That’s a lot for a Supreme Court justice not to understand.
That’s enough for us to reasonably wonder whether Justice Thomas recognizes the appearance of a conflict of interest when presented to him – as when his wife raised hundreds of thousands from unnamed donors in support of Supreme Court cases that will determine the levels of power by redhat authoritarians in campaigns to return their respective states to their natural states of authoritarianism.
That’s enough for us to reasonably wonder, when Ginni Thomas says, “I can guarantee that my husband has never spoken with me about pending cases,” whether she’s feeding us a line of shit. What’s laughable isn’t that “anyone who knows my husband” would might think “I could influence his jurisprudence.” What’s laughable is thinking she can’t.
Justice Thomas tells us, and will keep telling us, about things he didn’t understand. He didn’t understand disclosure forms. He didn’t understand tax forms. There’s likely more where these came from.
By telling us, Justice Thomas tells us something else:
That a justice of the United States Supreme Court who didn’t understand federal disclosure forms and federal tax forms has no business with an institution that tells the rest of us what the law is.
He has no business with an institution that tells the rest of us what the law is, because one of the requisites for telling the rest of us what the law is is understanding federal disclosure forms and federal tax forms.
And he’s telling us for three reasons.
One, he can’t be held responsible for things he didn’t understand.
Two, no one can hold him responsible things he didn’t understand.
Three, ignorance of the law is no defense — unless you’re a justice.
A sign of corruption among high officials is when they come out and say hell yeah, I’m corrupt. Whaddaya gonna do about it? In the case of Justice Thomas and his spouse, there’s nothing any one of us can do.
There’s no downside to telling the truth.
So he’s telling us.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.