Clarence Thomas in 2001: Being a Supreme Court justice is 'not worth doing for what they pay'

Clarence Thomas in 2001: Being a Supreme Court justice is 'not worth doing for what they pay'
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in 2017 (Creative Commons)

Ten years into his tenure as a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas said the job wasn’t worth the money, while adding it was for the “principle.” Now, two decades later, his commentary offers insight into the jurist whose recently exposed actions have led many Americans including legal and ethics experts to label as “corruption.”

“The job is not worth doing for what they pay,” Justice Thomas told the the Bar Association in Savannah, Georgia in a 2001 speech, reported then by The New York Post, according to Insider. “The job is not worth doing for the grief. But it is worth doing for the principle.”

Insider credits The Nation’s Jeet Heer for resurfacing Justice Thomas’ remarks.

At the time, the nation’s taxpayers gave U.S. Supreme Court justices (technically, their title is associate justice) an annual salary of $178,300. Over the years they’ve received a substantial increase, to $285,400.

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Justices also appear to have substantial time to travel, as allegations of corruption swirl around Justice Thomas for not disclosing at least hundreds of thousands of dollars of travel (which some experts say he was required to disclose) not to mention lavish luxury all-expenses-paid vacations including food, lodging, even clothing.

In 2010 ABC News spoke with several former Supreme Court clerks, including Supreme Court historian and University of Texas law professor Lucas “Scot” Powe, who said that in many ways “it’s the cushiest job in the world.”

“There’s also not that much required work, and they’ve made it less over time,” Powe said.

“The court’s nine-month term also means abundant free time during the summer,” ABC added, “when justices don’t hear oral arguments or meet to decide cases. Many choose to travel the world, giving legal seminars in hot spots like Venice, Italy, or Salzburg, Austria.”

ABC claimed that justices’ annual pay “hasn’t kept pace with inflation over the years and pales in comparison to what a lawyer of similar experience and stature might earn at a private firm. Partners at the top 42 U.S. firms earned more than million dollars each in 2008, according to the trade publication American Lawyer.”

In 2008, associate justices were paid $208,100.

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ProPublica has recently reported Justice Thomas over the course of more than two decades was the beneficiary of annual vacations, which he did not disclose. One, the investigative news outlet said, was worth an estimated $500,000.

Billionaire Harlan Crow, a conservative activist who admitted his friendship with Thomas began by offering the justice a free flight on his airplane, hosted both Clarence and Ginni Thomas, the far-right wing activist who worked to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Crow also purchased Thomas’ mother’s house, ProPublica has reported. She continues to live in it, rent free.

This week ProPublica added to its portfolio of investigations into Thomas, revealing that Harlan Crow paid the private school tuition of Thomas’ legal ward, his grandnephew, who the Thomases have cared for since he was six years old. Those tuition payments, also never disclosed, could be worth up to $150,000, ProPublica reported.

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