US Supreme Court controversy

Justice Clarence Thomas is accused of not disclosing free trips he took with conservative Tea Party leaders.

US supreme court [GALLO/GETTY]
Justice Clarence Thomas, on the far left of the photo, has been accused of accepting money and trips from right-wing political groups  [GALLO/GETTY]

Perhaps you’re familiar with Clarence Thomas, the Long-Dong-Silver-loving US Supreme Court Justice. With a new term beginning on The Court, he has just passed the five-year mark for not only saying nothing of value while hearing cases, but nothing at all.

Yes, you read that correctly—while no US Supreme Court Justice in over two centuries has gone even a single term without speaking from the bench during arguments, Thomas has managed to do it for five in a row.

To quote Stephen Colbert, “the man is a rock…in that he could be replaced by a rock and I’m not sure anyone would notice.”

Sadly, it shouldn’t really come as much of a surprise that if someone were going to set this record, it would be Justice Thomas. He certainly never even approached being “the most qualified” person in the land to sit on the Supreme Court, as President George H.W. Bush, who nominated him to the High Court, said after offering his name.

I’m quite sure that Bush didn’t even believe that himself, unless he was limiting the field of competition to Thomas, then-vice president Dan Quayle, and his namesake offspring. But if he was clearly unworthy then—and he was—he is now about as appropriate a judge as Newt Gingrich is a marriage counselor.

Politicised justice

While he doesn’t seem to even want to participate in his day job, Thomas certainly does engage in the kind of partisan politicking that is not only unseemly, but sets a terrible precedent in a democracy. And at least in theory, the judiciary is supposed to be impartial, and therefore above politics.

Yet, in only the past few weeks, a number of embarrassing episodes have not only turned the Legal Tracheotomy into a punch line for late night comics, but have quite honestly raised questions about whether any fully-functioning democracy would allow him to continue rendering judgments so important in deciding not only the law, but values of our society.

First, there was the fact that Thomas, whose wife has earned almost $700,000 for—as far as I can tell—being his wife, finds government disclosure forms to difficult to fill out that he accidentally put $0 where $700,000 was supposed to be under “spousal income”.

That’s right, for a guy who is supposed to decide how to interpret our Constitution, apparently reporting the bounty his wife pulled in through the right-wing welfare system of think tank stipends and Tea Party activism is somewhat more difficult than making jokes about body hair and coca cola to co-workers of a female persuasion. As this is a family news outlet, you’re just going to have to go look up the rest yourself.

But wait, there’s more! As reported over the past week, the good-government group Common Cause has caught ole Clarence in what those in the legal profession might call a “lie”.

Monied interests

Thomas attended a meeting of wealthy corporate barons on the West Coast, not long before joining his fellow deluded, activist conservative judges in overturning roughly 100 years of settled law to claim that corporations should be able to buy and sell democracy on the free market, like equities or an Emmy.

And as such, these corporate “people” can spend pretty much whatever they want on electioneering, a wonderful little valentine to a republic that is supposed to be defined by “one person, one vote”.

The problem, of course, is those wealthy conservatives with whom Thomas ate pigs-in-a-blanket and likely fantasised about replacing the social safety net with breakaway glass stood to directly benefit from these changes to our law, contained in the infamous Citizens United case.

So Thomas went ahead and lied about how much time he spent at that retreat held by the infamous Koch Brothers, the sugar daddies of the supposedly power-to-the-people Tea Party movement. While according the The New York Times, “a court spokeswoman said Justice Thomas had made a ‘brief drop-by’ at the event in Palm Springs, California, in January 2008 and had given a talk,” in that darn financial disclosure report that keeps getting him in trouble, Thomas reported that he was reimbursed by the right-wing Federalist Society for having spent “four days” at this very same event.

Four days, or a few hours? You say tomato. I say tomahto.

Past performance

This is all on top of all the reasons he never should have made it to the Supreme Court in the first place, such as sexually harassing Anita Hill and apparently other young women who’ve come forward in the years since.

Along these lines, a couple of interesting anecdotes were recently shared with me by famed attorney Guy Saperstein, who started the largest plaintiffs civil rights law firm in America and successfully prosecuted the largest race, sex and age discrimination class actions in American history.

Saperstein was co-counsel with Thomas for a race discrimination case against State Farm back in the 1980s, when he was representing private plaintiffs and Thomas was doing the same for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). While Saperstein, as was common practice, wanted to ask the judge for a hiring order, which would solve the problem in the future, Thomas did not. Ideology, then as now, trumped sound judgment.

Saperstein also recalls attending the American Bar Association Convention in Florida, shortly after Thomas was nominated to the High Court. Saperstein walked into a reception late, and was called over by a group of the top defense lawyers in the country, whom he had befriended, even though they represented opposite sides in court. These men stood to benefit greatly if Thomas was sworn in, as they represented the kind of big business interests to which Thomas had sworn fealty.

When they asked Saperstein what he thought of the nomination, he replied that he thought, “it was an insult to every competent lawyer in America.” He expected this notion to be met with an argument, but instead, every single member of this group agreed. Not only that, but to a man, they offered (in public no less) that not one of them would hire him to join their firms, so little did they think of his mind and abilities as a lawyer.

Then Senate Judiciary Chairman and current Vice President Joe Biden, as well as other Democrats who allowed this man to become a member of the Supreme Court should be supremely embarrassed to this day (as should every Republican, but I won’t hold my breath on that).

Yet, how about addressing this mistake. Thomas has shown no moral compass, judicial ethics, intellectual rigor and understanding of his duties. For this, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas should be impeached.

Cliff Schecter is the president of Libertas, LLC, a progressive public relations firm, the author of the 2008 bestseller The Real McCain, and a regular contributor to The Huffington Post.

Follow Cliff Schecter On Twitter: @Cliffschecter

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.