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Justice Thomas’ Conflicts of Interest

Justice Thomas’ Conflicts of Interest

With the recent activities by The Chamber of Commerce and the ongoing fall-out from the Citizens United decision there’s been a lot of focus of the role of money in this current election cycle.  And with good reason as it’s clear that Congressional candidates are set to spend record amounts just trying to stay employed.  As we round the corner to November 2nd, now is the time to really focus on just what kind of influence money plays in our electoral outcomes.

Which is what made the following New York Times profile of Virginia Thomas, wife of Justice Clarence Thomas of the Supreme Court all the more trouble.  Ms. Thomas is the founder and chief executive of Liberty Central, a nonprofit organization set up to “restore the greatness of America” in part by opposing the leftist “tyranny” of President Obama and Democrats in Congress. 

Part of that opposition includes substantial money contributions designed to support the organization’s advocacy efforts.  Its initial contributions include one for $500,000 and another for $50,000 from undisclosed donors.  Given the structure of Liberty Central and the current state of campaign disclosure laws, Ms. Thomas is under no legal obligation to disclose the donors.  But that doesn’t mean she can avoid the issue all together.

She needs to disclose those donors because they raise a serious issue of ethics for her husband.  Justice Thomas, and indeed all of the sitting justices, need to know if those donors is a party in a case before the Supreme Court or if they have an interest in a party before the Court.  Without that disclosure, how could Justice Thomas meet his fundamental ethical and legal requirement and disqualify himself in any proceeding “in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.”

No one is suggesting that Ms. Thomas not chose the career that she has.  Sure, her choice may be distasteful given her husband’s job, but quite frankly that is a discussion suited simply for Justice Thomas and his wife.  But, given the already shaky ground the Roberts Court finds itself as a result of some very questionable decisions, Citizens United among the most notorious, it is incumbent on Justice Thomas to not feed into even the appearance of impropriety.  Indeed, as a sitting justice it is his ethical obligation to avoid such a position.  So far neither Justice Thomas nor his wife have agreed to the required disclosures.  For the sake of our faith in the judiciary, let’s hope they change their minds soon.

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photo courtesy of Jeff Kubina via Flickr

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68 comments

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1:49PM PDT on Oct 24, 2010

Several posters came out and said it and now its out of the bottle and needs to be put back in. The Supreme Court *HAS* to be 100 percent impartial. I am suggesting that Justice Thompson resign immediately no more hearing any cases. Lock his door and do not allow him to talk to anyone else in the building (except the baliff who should come and get the justice's pass).
The dramtic episode at his hearing should have shut down the hearing process. I suspect it did not as there were some back door promises made. While they are investigating Thomas they should also be investigating the hearing panel.
We should demand and expect impartiality from all the judges and this should put them on notice as well.

6:45PM PDT on Oct 22, 2010

Looks like the Thomas' have more to worry about now. Haha!

11:38PM PDT on Oct 20, 2010

Who gave the pres the right to throw ceo out of a private business? So why shouldn't they have a voice in the matter. You want to stop this why not only receive money from within your district you are running in NO outside money period!

11:33PM PDT on Oct 20, 2010

Who was the lawyer for our now pres? Hint the latest court member, who has all his records sealed? Wonder why he pushed so hard for her to get on the court! You people are blind just like justice is supposed to be.

4:04PM PDT on Oct 19, 2010

They are there for life!!!

12:22PM PDT on Oct 17, 2010

To play devil's advocate, should the action's of a justice's wife reflect on the justice? Shouldn't he or she have a right in their political views?

12:08PM PDT on Oct 16, 2010

GENE W said: "Justice Thomas has never denigrated anyone in front of the Supreme Court, it is his habit to not speak during any oral arguments."

Thomas denigrated every American when he voted with his right wing cronies on the Court, deciding that corporations deserve every right guaranteed to humans. Utter nonsense--and ruinous for our democracy.

What it says in effect is that if you own the majority of the stock in a corporation, you have your own individual rights and the rights of the corporate "person" as well.

5:16AM PDT on Oct 16, 2010

Now, now! Don't let such a trifling matter, which involves this situation regarding a conflict of interests, hinder the operation of justice by a true dispenser of impartiality.

4:06AM PDT on Oct 16, 2010

@John Doucette, what decision do you feel is/has destroyed the confidence of America. Remember this present Court has four new members since 2002.
@Alan B., although you are from Australia and don't really have a dog in this fight, I will attempt to answer your allegation. There is no "appearance of a conflict of interest" only Jessica's rant that Justice Thomas' wife works for a non-profit corporation which does not have to divulge who donates to the corporation and therefore something must be amiss; and that Justice Thomas worked for Monsanto in his early years as a lawyer for two years and joined a 7 to 1 decision for Monsanto. Neither of these acts are conflicts if Justice Thomas does not feel they are.

9:06PM PDT on Oct 15, 2010

It really is a no brainer;the appearance of conflict of interest is an open / shut case of I cannot be involved in this from the bench!

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