Supremely Corrupt

If you are reading this blog post, you probably have already heard about Justice Clarence Thomas's receipt of gifts and free travel worth millions of dollars from various donors. The list of such gifts is staggering. Before we get to that, however, let's discuss corruption.

In McCutcheon v. FEC, the Supreme Court held that federal limits on aggregate political contributions violated the first amendment. It is a horrible decision written by Chief Justice Roberts, who said that the government can only target direct quid pro quo bribery when regulating campaign spending. Roberts pointed to nothing in text or history suggesting that the government is disabled from going after other, less direct, forms of political corruption. 

Retired Judge Richard Posner was quite upset with this decision and wrote the following (while still an active judge):

Chief Justice Roberts’ opinion in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission ... in the name of free speech, further diminished Congress’ power to limit spending on political campaigns. The opinion states that Congress may target only a specific type of corruption—quid pro quo corruption—that is, an agreement between donor and candidate that in exchange for the donation the candidate will support policies that will provide financial or other benefits to the donor. If there is no agreement, the opinion states, the donation must be allowed because “constituents have the right to support candidates who share their views and concerns. Representatives are not to follow constituent orders, but can be expected to be cognizant of and respon­sive to those concerns. Such responsiveness is key to the very concept of self-governance through elected officials.”

Can so naive-seeming a conception of the political process reflect the actual beliefs of the intellectually sophisticated chief justice? Maybe so, but one is entitled to be skeptical. Obviously, wealthy businessmen and large corporations often make substantial political contributions in the hope (often fulfilled) that by doing so they will be buying the support of politicians for policies that yield financial benefits to the donors. The legislator who does not honor the implicit deal is unlikely to receive similar donations in the future. By honoring the deal he is not just being “responsive” to the political “views and concerns” of constituents; he is buying their financial support with currency consisting of votes for legislation valuable to his benefactors. Isn’t this obviously a form of corruption?

Substitute judges for legislators in this paragraph and the problem is obvious. A wealthy benefactor who consistently helps a judge financially may be doing so hoping the judge issues decisions in that person's interest. How does the judge know the money will not dry up if the donor is displeased? Think about that problem, and the appearance of impropriety, when looking at the partial list below of Harlan Crow's gifts to or in honor of Thomas:

2001: A Bible Once Owned by Frederick Douglass Worth $19,000. 

2007: $175,000 For a New Clarence Thomas Wing at the Justice’s Childhood Library In Pin Point, Georgia. 

2007: A Cruise Through The Greek Islands On Crow’s Yacht, The Michaela Rose. 

2008: Land In Pin Point, Georgia, worth $1.5 Million to be the Site of a Historical Museum Commemorating the Community That Raised Clarence Thomas. 

2009: $500,000 To Ginni Thomas’s Conservative Advocacy Group, "Liberty Central."

2010's: An Extended Cruise In New Zealand on The Michaela Rose.

2017: Free transportation to and lodging at Crow's Private Lakeside Resort, Camp Topridge Where Thomas Spent Time with Executives at Verizon And PricewaterhouseCoopers, As Well As Major GOP Donors. 

2019: A Trip Through Indonesia.

2019: Free Transportation to and Lodging at Bohemian Grove, the all-male retreat in northern California. There were at least six of these trips over the years.

Of course, there are many more gifts and trips, including Crow paying for the private education of a Thomas relative and Crow paying for and improving the house lived in by Thomas's mother. 

And Crow or his companies have had a financial stake in several Supreme Court cases.

There is very little question that Harlan Crow has bestowed on Thomas millions of dollars worth of lavish and life-changing gifts, some of which Thomas failed to disclose in a timely manner. This longstanding and consistent financial support for Thomas from one man is highly unusual. This pattern of gifts and dedications is nothing like a justice receiving free transportation and lodging at academic events or the occasional providing of free sports or concert tickets by famous celebrities.

Harlan Crow has allowed Thomas and his family to live a lifestyle they could not come close to affording, and that support has lasted across the decades. 

Thomas needs to either resign or stop accepting these kinds of gifts.

That's all.