Media Attacks Against Clarence Thomas Are Truly An Assault on The Independent Judiciary

April 28, 2023

Media Attacks Against Clarence Thomas Are Truly An Assault on The Independent Judiciary

Clarence Thomas will be remembered as one of the great Justices of his era.

A champion of the Constitution, he has ably advanced Originalist principles of jurisprudence. An inspired tutor, his law clerks have graduated into the highest echelons of American government and the legal profession. Justice Thomas, who was raised in rural poverty before bootstrapping his way into national conservative leadership, is also a living testament to the American Dream.

For all these reasons, the Left has nursed a decades-old vendetta against America’s second black Justice. Earlier this month, they sprung their latest plot to force him off the federal bench.

Throughout April, ProPublica has published a series of articles that outline Justice Thomas’ interactions with Harlan Crowe, a billionaire real estate developer and a longtime friend of the Justice. This series of “exposés” culminated in the revelation that Mr. Crow had purchased the home of Justice Thomas’ mother, with the intent of converting it into a museum. Moreover, ProPublica revealed that Mr. Crow had invited the jurist on several boating outings and family vacations.

There was nothing improper about Justice Thomas’ engagement in any of these no evidence that either party asserted a quid pro quo aspect to their relationship. And at no point during Justice Thomas’ tenure has Mr. Crow or any of his business entities had cases before the Supreme Court. However, because Justice Thomas did not disclose every part of these engagements, ProPublica and other outlets published claims that the Justice had violated core judicial ethics. Armed with these allegations, the Left immediately responded with calls for Justice Thomas’ removal from the Court.

Never mind that Justice Thomas probably did comply with existing financial disclosure standards.[1] Or that he has already announced his intention to furnish even further disclosures on his engagements with Mr. Crow. Never mind that, compared to his fellow Justices, Thomas has a modest reported net worth. Leaving relevant facts to the wayside, the Left has committed to capitalizing on this narrative to politically neutralize the most conservative voice on the Court.

Last week, for example, MSNBC aired a segment comparing Justice Thomas’ purported ethics scandal to that of former Associate Justice Abe Fortas. By the network’s count, Justice Thomas would do well to fully follow in Justice Fortas’ footsteps, whose undisclosed financial gifts prompted his resignation from the Court.

A review of the historical record will quickly dispel such pernicious comparisons.

Abe Fortas is the only Justice in U.S. history to resign his post on the Court on account of alleged unethical activities. In 1966, Justice Fortas accepted a retainer fee of $20,000 (equivalent to roughly $190,000 in today’s dollars) from the family foundation of Louis Wolfson, a notorious Wall Street corporate raider. While Wolfson did not have cases come before the Court, he had amassed a significant criminal profile, which would eventually result in his 1970 conviction for securities fraud. It is evident that Wolfson saw Justice Fortas as an instrumental assistant in his efforts to avoid criminal penalties. Not only did Justice Fortas have sway over the highest criminal court of appeals, he was also a close adviser to President Lyndon Johnson – the same President empowered to pardon a potentially convicted Mr. Wolfson. According to investigative reporter Bob Woodward, phone recordings show that Fortas, “while a member of the high court, was very heavily involved in advising Wolfson on legal difficulties he had.”

In the Fortas scandal, a sitting Supreme Court Justice had been openly bribed for access by a federal criminal suspect. Whatever MSNBC may claim, the recent allegations against Justice Thomas do not remotely approach such flagrant ethical violations.

Nonetheless, other left-wing commentators have made equally brazen calls for congressional action against Justice Thomas. Jeet Heer, a leading columnist for The Nation, decried Senate Democrat’s failure to “investigate [Justice] Thomas,” “expand the courts” or otherwise “limit the power of corrupt and lawless judges.” By Heer’s count, Justice Thomas’ evasion of harsher congressional scrutiny exemplifies the “fecklessness” of Senate Democrats, who are “addicted to norms and bipartisan comity.” According to this deluded account, these same Senate Democrats whose leadership incited violence against conservative justices and whose rank-and-file have lampooned the judicial process with their political theatrics, are letting Justice Thomas off the hook to feed their “addiction to norms.”

While the Senate has not yet passed any punitive reforms, legislators have certainly not overlooked the allegations against Justice Thomas. The Senate Judiciary Committee has pushed for Chief Justice Roberts to deliver testimony regarding his colleagues’ ethical disclosures. Just this week, Senators King and Murkowski introduced a bill to bind the Justices under new financial disclosure standards. These developments will continue to evolve, especially amidst Senate Democrats’ longstanding demands for reform at the Supreme Court.

The Left’s NGO machine is motivated to pick up any slack left behind by their “feckless” counterparts on Capitol Hill. According to the New York Times, progressive groups concerned by Justice Thomas’ alleged improprieties are gearing up for “a new nationwide campaign calling for structural changes to the Supreme Court.” If the recent media record provides any indication, this campaign will likely center on policy proposals to remove Justice Thomas from the Court.

Clarence Thomas is no stranger to vitriolic attacks on his judicial integrity. During his confirmation to the Supreme Court, he endured his first “high-tech lynching” at the hands of Senator Joe Biden. Over three decades later, just earlier this year, lawmakers in his home state of Georgia panned him as an “Uncle Tom” who “sold his soul to the slave masters.” The Justice, however, has never been willing to allow such histrionics to stand between him and his responsibilities as an appointed guardian of the Constitution.

The Framers believed it was essential for our judiciary to maintain its independence from upheavals in the political branches of government. As Alexander Hamilton said in Federalist No. 80, the “independence of the judges may be an essential safe-guard against the effects of occasional ill humours in the society.” The recent media attacks against Justice Thomas are naked attempts to erode this safeguard.

The Left refuses to submit to the rule of law under our Constitution. Instead, they seek to place the judiciary under the yoke of their political prerogatives. In the face of these threats to the separation of powers, it is more important than ever before to stand by the Constitution and defend an independent judiciary.

[1] A recent column in the Wall Street Journal provides a compelling amount of evidence to this effect.




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