An Ethics Debate on Clarence Thomas
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is no stranger to ethical danger. His ethics have been questioned for years. Explore a timeline of his scnadals, beginning with Anita Hill.
I won’t be doing an in-depth analysis of Clarence Thomas’ latest scandal … where he took luxury gifts from one of his friends … I think we can all agree that was unethical of him to not report it. (Although, maybe not the legal definition of unethical, which is usually by code or law.) Instead, I thought I’d do a review of all of his scandals. He has many.
Buckle up, butter cup. Clarence Thomas is not stranger to some news danger.
The Scandals of Clarence Thomas
Clarence Thomas has been on the bench over 32 years, making him the longest serving justice on SCOTUS. His entire tenure has been one controversy after another. People may remember that the Anita Hill sexual harassment allegations during his confirmation hearing. And last week,
1991: Anita Hill Harassment Allegations
President George H.W. Bush nominated Clarence Thomas, a federal circuit judge, to succeed Justice Thurgood Marshall. Somewhere in that time line—different accounts tell different time lines—Anita Hill was questioned by the FBI and the Senate. Then-Senator Joe Biden was in charge of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The FBI, after a 3 day investigation (a farce … I’m sorry, but no investigation is that quick, okay … especially not for a Supreme Court Justice) declared that the allegations were “unfounded.”
Ms. Hill stated that Thomas had sexually harassed her while he was her supervisor at the Department of Education and the EEOC.
One of the more famous quotes of his alleged sexual harassment was that Thomas asked, “Who has put pubic hair on my Coke?”
By the way, four other witnesses were waiting to be called to verify Ms. Hill’s testimony. But they never were.
Thomas was confirmed by the Senate by a vote of 52-48, a very narrow margin indeed. We saw flashbacks recently when Justice Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed by a 50-48 vote margin. Just ask Christine Blasey Ford what she thinks of Anita Hill.
2003-2007: Failure to Report Wife’s Income
Thomas stayed quiet for a while. Kind of like when you got in trouble with your parents, and you stayed in your room … to avoid being seen. But then Thomas amended 20 years worth of disclosure forms to correct his previous failures to disclose income earned from his wife, attorney and conservative activist Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, while she worked at the Heritage Foundation.
Does anyone else think that 20 f’n years of disclosures is … quite a lot of years to conveniently forget to report something?
2004: Undisclosed gifts
This wasn’t the first time that Thomas has gotten in trouble from accepting Harlan Crow’s gifts. In 2004, the Los Angeles Times reported that Crow has lavished gifts on the Thomases, including donations to Ginni’s Tea Party group that paid her a hefty salary, donations to Yale in Thomas’ honor, as well as many luxurious trips.
Just like his “oopsie” disclosure moment of Ginni’s income, many of these gifts were not reported, either.
However, under the Ethics in Government Act, judges were required to report information of gifts that were more than de minimis, from any source other than a relative. But the law exempted “food, lodging, or entertainment received as personal hospitality.”
So I need to stress here that Thomas did not disclose some of his gifts, but the Ethics in Government Act did not require him too, either (up until recently, when the law changed).
Those donations, though … I’ll leave that up to you to decide.
The subject of Anita Hill is not quite over, because in 2007, Thomas published an autobiography, in which he addressed the Hill controversy square on. Thomas called Hill his “most traitorous adversary” and said her claims were politically motivated. He also called her work as “mediocre.”
The Anita Hill controversy is still not over, because in October 2010, Ginni decided to leave a voicemail demanding that Hill apologize for her 1991 testimony. Hill alerted the Brandeis University campus police (where she is a professor), who alerted the FBI.
Hill stated to the media, “I testified truthfully about my experience and I stand by that testimony.”
Ginni responded that the call was supposed to be "an “olive branch.”
Frankly, at this point I’m beginning to believe Hill just on the sheer fact that Thomas and his wife keep bringing it up. As if they are both pissed that someone had the nerve to call Thomas out.
Of course, I will never know either way. But once a bully, always a bully.
2007: Affirmative Action
Thomas spoke out against affirmative action, reciting his experiences as a Black man who graduated from Yale … and his inability to get a job. He stated that he was unable to erase the stigmatizing effects of racial preference, even when he was nominated to the Supreme Court.
“Once it is assumed that everything you do achieve is because of your race, there is no way out,” he said. “… it is irrebuttable and it is proved to be true. In everything now that someone like me does, there's a backwash into your whole life is because of race.”
I do not necessarily disagree with that sentiment. However, I also believe that people like Thomas pave the way for a better generation. One where a Black man does not need to be given preferential treatment because of affirmative action.
Maybe that makes me naïve, I don’t know. But, I sincerely believe that statement makes Thomas a selfish prick. How many others would love to have his experience of going to Yale? I’d rather be known as the token race card than to not even be in the deck.
2011: Affordable Care Act Calls for Recusal
Thomas’ wife Ginni again finds herself putting him in the hotseat when she advocated to repeal President Obama’s Affordable Care Act legislation. In 2011, 74 Democratic members of the House wrote a letter requesting Thomas to recuse himself from any case regarding the ACA. Thomas did not recuse himself. He was one of the dissenters in the 5-4 vote that upheld the constitutionality of the law.
2016: Moira Smith Allegations
In 2016, lawyer Moira Smith alleged that Thomas had groped her during a dinner party in 1999. She broke her 17-year silence after the infamous Access Hollywood tape featuring Donald Trump bragging about sexual assault.
Moira wrote on her Facebook page “At the age of 24, I found out I’d be attending a dinner at my boss’s house with Justice Clarence Thomas. […] But to my complete shock, he groped me while I was setting the table, suggesting I should ‘sit right next to him.’”
Thomas told the Washington Post, “This claim is preposterous and it never happened.” I wonder if Ginni will extend an olive branch to Ms. Moira, too.
2020: Wife’s Claims About Trump’s Election
Ginni again brings a bunch of controversy to the Supreme Court, as she repeatedly messaged a bunch of people, to urge them to throw out Joe Biden’s victory. Remember, Joe Biden was behind the Anita Hill thing. And, the Anita Hill thing was definitely on Ginni’s mind. Remember that she admitted to leaving Hill a voicemail that didn’t sound anywhere close to extending an olive branch … 19 years after the event in question. There’s no way she forgot in the last 10.
2023: Undisclosed Luxury Gifts
We come full circle here. On April 6, 2023, ProPublica reported that Thomas and Ginni had taken luxury trips from Harlan Crow. Thomas did not list these items on his annual financial disclosure.
I want to stress that the rules changed last month on what judges must report in their financial disclosure. As Bloomberg reported:
The Judicial Conference clarified regulations around financial reporting exemptions and what one US senator calls a “personal hospitality loophole” in changes disclosed Tuesday that took effect March 14.
And here are the rules for financial disclosures.
Also, those rules did not previously apply to the Supreme Court.
In a statement, Justice Thomas’ responded that:
“[E]arly in my tenure at the court, I sought guidance from my colleagues and others in the judiciary, and was advised that this sort of personal hospitality from close personal friends, who did not have business before the Court, was not reportable. […] [T]hese guidelines are now being changed. […] And, it is, of course, my intent to follow this guidance in the future.”
As far as whether Justice Thomas will be impeached, I really wouldn’t put any money on it in the betting pools. You and I would definitely think his behavior was unethical by moral standards … but was it unethical by code standards? I bet you over the next few weeks, the Thomases are going to be on the receiving end of an investigation … where every gift will be questioned.
In closing, I’m going to leave you with this question … is anyone else interested to see Thomas’ next year’s financial disclosure?