Clarence Thomas keeps telling on himself

Clarence Thomas keeps telling on himself
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 21: (L-R) Associate Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas sits with his wife and conservative activist Virginia Thomas while he waits to speak at the Heritage Foundation on October 21, 2021 in Washington, DC. Clarence Thomas has now served on the Supreme Court for 30 years. He was nominated by former President George H. W. Bush in 1991 and is the second African-American to serve on the high court, following Justice Thurgood Marshall. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
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The eldest member of the rightwing supermajority of the United States Supreme Court – well, let’s just say the man 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 along the way, 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.”

He didn’t.

But he does think we’re fools.

In response to ProPublica’s report, Thomas said, in so many words, that he didn’t on his own determine what the law is, instead relied on someone else to tell him what the law 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 he told on himself. He said, well, he was “advised” the law didn’t apply given that, you know, 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 Supreme Court justice, I’d want to do it without appearing to be doing it. One of the best ways of influencing without appearing to influence, 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 reporting. 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 “anything of value” in this “close personal relationship” isn’t a thing. It’s the “close personal relationship.”

I stress this today, because Thomas did.

He keeps telling on himself.

ProPublic reported this week that Crow bought Thomas’ childhood home, and surrounding homes, in Pinpoint, Georgia. “The transaction marks the first known instance of money flowing from the Republican megadonor to the Supreme Court justice,” the report said. “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.”

Now, it’s very 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.

The amount 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.”

Then Thomas told on himself – again.

“Harlan and Kathy Crow are among our dearest friends,” he said in a statement to ProPublica. “As friends do, we have joined them on a number of family trips.” Then Crow told on Thomas – the gifts 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 – they were “close personal friends.” Now that it’s been established that money, though trivial in amount, changed hands, and that this money exchange looks like buying influence, the “close personal friendship” has become “our dearest friends.”

At this rate, the Thomases and the Crows will be blood kin next week.

So far, no one is paying attention to the evolution of this relationship. We should. In this evolution is pretty much everything we need to know about the problem. The best part? Thomas is telling us himself. He’s confessing.

He’s confessing four things.

One, that the problem isn’t a thing – an exchange of gifts or money – but a relationship with a very obscenely rich man who can buy what he wants.

Two, that he may or may not obey the law, it depends, even as he’s telling the rest of us what the law is, thus appearing to compromise his jurisprudence and that of the rest of the justices on the Supreme Court.

Three, that his jurisprudence may not be as compromised as it seems.

Listen to what he’s saying. Listen very carefully. Thomas is saying that he didn’t have to obey the law, which requires the disclosure of “anything of value,” not in spite of his relationship with a billionaire, but because of it.

In that, he’s telling us that he obeys a law that’s higher than the laws of mere democracy, which is the law governing the bonds of patrician men. It’s because of his bond that 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 the rest of us think 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.

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