Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has reportedly unleashed an attack on his critics for his violations of disclosure laws and alleged conflicts of interest. He warned law students that these critics are “undermining” the Court and endangering the country by weakening core institutions. As one of those critics, I am flabbergasted by Thomas’ remarks which show an implied disregard that seems to have now reached open contempt for certain principles of judicial ethics. There is not a hint of concern for his own conduct and how it has undermined the Supreme Court as an institution. For a prior column, click here
This weekend at a Federalist Society event, Thomas insisted that his wife Ginny is being attacked because she believes in the same thing as he does and that they “are focused on defending liberty.” That appears to be his defense for years of filing false disclosure forms that effectively hid hundreds of thousands of dollars of salary from conservative organizations.
When I first read these comments, it seemed that Thomas was just stuck on some Kübler-Ross process on denial and transference. However, it seems much more worrisome. Thomas clearly holds an imperial view of the Court. He has previously objected to those who would presume to criticize those in charge of their institutions. In these remarks, Thomas strikes a perfectly messianic note, warning the students that critics “seem bent on undermining” the Court. He added:
“You all are going to be, unfortunately, the recipients of the fallout from that – that there’s going to be a day when you need these institutions to be credible and to be fully functioning to protect your liberties . . . . And that’s long after I’m gone, and that could be either a short or a long time, but you’re younger, and it’s still going to be a necessity to protect the liberties that you enjoy now in this country.”
Frankly, it is a spin that borders on the delusional. Thomas and some of his colleagues are destroying a long tradition of neutrality of justices by pandering to their ideological base. Thomas magnified this damage by adding years of disclosure violations that withheld information that would have been relevant to his own alleged conflicts of interest. He clearly confuses the justices with the institution itself — treating himself as the personification of the rule of law. Ironically, this is precisely the problem that I have described in the advent of the celebrity justice.
What is even more distressing is that Thomas would choose this forum to address these complaints rather than answer the formal inquiries regarding his disclosure violations.