Juan Williams, a political analyst at Fox News, as well as a decades-long friend to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, expressed his support f0r an investigation into the conservative justice following a recent spate of corruption allegations.
Thomas is facing renewed scrutiny following the revelation last week that the he sold his childhood home to GOP mega-donor Harlan Crow — and never disclosed the sale.
The ProPublica report came days after the outlet first reported that Thomas has been accepting and failing to disclose several luxury vacations from Crow for years. While Thomas defended the undisclosed trips by citing an ill-defined "personal hospitality" exemption included in disclosure requirements, the real estate revelation has thus far been harder to explain away.
CNN reported on Monday that Thomas plans to amend his financial disclosure forms to accurately reflect the real estate deal, but four ethics law experts told ProPublica last week that the justice likely violated a federal disclosure law that was enacted in the wake of Watergate, sparking public pressure for an official investigation into Thomas' financial dealings, as well as growing calls for his resignation and impeachment.
Following The Washington Post's report, lawyer David R. Lurie tweeted: "Thomas's disregard for legal disclosure mandates exemplifies the attitude of the Supreme Court's extremist majority toward the citizens to whom they issue increasingly imperious dictates: Contempt."
Newsweek reached out to Lurie via Twitter and a Supreme Court spokesperson via email for comment.
He wrote that "the corrupt conduct of Justice Thomas demonstrates, some members of the Trump Era judiciary appear to believe there is no longer a need for them even to maintain an appearance of judicial probity."
He noted that Thomas had not recused himself from election cases following the 2020 election even though his wife, Virginia Thomas, a conservative activist, had reached out to the Trump White House and lawmakers to urge them to attempt to overturn election results.
"We now know that — even as Ginni Thomas was raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars from 'family friend' Harlan Crow — Thomas himself was receiving lavish gifts of travel and other benefits from the billionaire, a right-wing activist, with an intense interest in the subject matters of many cases that come before the Court," Lurie wrote.
The Supreme Court keeps tripping over its own robes. Last week, ProPublica revealed that a conservative megadonor has been secretly subsidizing the lifestyle of Justice Clarence Thomas. In a rare public statement, the justice claims he asked others on the Court and in the judiciary, who assured him he need not disclose such beneficence.
It’s not clear which is worse: if this is true, or if it isn’t.
Thomas said all this merely involved “personal hospitality” from a friend (albeit a billionaire who befriended Thomas only after he was appointed to the Court). That might evoke a dinner party or a weekend at a friend’s lake house. Hardly: Thomas frolicked on Harlan Crow’s superyacht, flew on his personal jet, vacationed at his private resort, and traveled with him to Bohemian Grove, an all-male retreat in California. According to ProPublica, the largesse was worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Thomas claimed to want to avoid chichi vacations. “I prefer the RV parks. I prefer the Walmart parking lots to the beaches and things like that. There’s something normal to me about it,” Thomas said. “I come from regular stock, and I prefer that — I prefer being around that.” They say hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue.
This all shows the perils of DIY ethics. The Supreme Court is the only court in the country with no enforceable code of ethics. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) has pointed out that the Court quickly launched a formal investigation of the leak of the Dobbs decision last year. It could do so again. If the Court will not craft a set of ethics rules — and pronto — Congress can and should do so.
Congress should also investigate. There’s ample precedent: Justice Abe Fortas, too, was found to be receiving support from a wealthy benefactor, and the controversy proved so intense that he resigned.
But beyond stronger rules, the scandal shows how lifetime tenure can engender justices with a startling sense of entitlement and a belief that they are beyond accountability. Thomas almost certainly knows that cavorting around the globe in a superyacht isn’t “personal hospitality” in the spirit of current rules. After briefly disclosing the trips and causing a minor stir in 2004, he decided it would be better to keep them to himself. He was confident he could avoid consequences.
Where did that confidence come from? At least in part from the assurance that comes with years of accumulated power and influence.
Few government jobs anywhere in the world are quite like that of U.S. Supreme Court justices: nine unelected people who dictate wide swaths of national policy. And if they’re put on the Court at a young age, they get to do so for many decades with no real risk of removal. Only one justice has ever been impeached (Samuel Chase in 1804). None has ever been convicted. Supreme Court justices are, in this way, more akin to royalty than public servants. Only a single U.S. state mirrors the federal system — the rest have either fixed terms or mandatory retirement.
We can make a change, as I recently argued in the Los Angeles Times. There is a broad bipartisan consensus in favor of term limits for Supreme Court justices. Justices would serve for up to 18 years, with each president allowed two appointments per presidential term. I describe all this in my upcoming book, The Supermajority: How the Supreme Court Divided America.
Term limits would ensure that the composition of the Court better mirrors the preferences of American voters and stop presidents from influencing national policy decades beyond their terms in office. Term limits would also prevent any individual from accumulating unaccountable power, as Thomas seems to believe he has.
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