Thomas Scandal is the Latest Example Of Why Court Reforms are Necessary

Sonny Perdue is sworn in as the 31st Secretary of Agriculture by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas with his wife Mary and family April 25, 2017, at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.. Photo by Preston Keres

By Tiffany Muller

During his tenure on the Supreme Court, Justice Clarence Thomas has vehemently opposed transparency measures designed to root out corruption. So, it should come as no surprise now that he’s at the center of one of the most damning scandals in Supreme Court history.

In 2010, the Court’s Citizens United decision allowed unlimited amounts of political spending into the system. The one silver lining was that eight of the nine Justices upheld disclosure requirements. Conservative and liberal Justices agreed transparency would enable voters to make informed decisions. It would essentially be the one guardrail against corruption.

The lone dissenter? Justice Clarence Thomas.

In his dissent, he made clear that he doesn’t think Americans have a right to know who’s trying to influence their vote, who has a conflict of interest, and who is bought by special interests and mega-donors.

Thomas’ utter disregard for transparency is in full alignment with reports that he illegally failed to disclose takingmillions of dollars worth of luxurious trips paid for by a shadowy right wing billionaire. He even failed to report that he sold his home for $133,363 to that same political mega-donor.

These aren’t the first revelations of Thomas’s unethical behavior.

For decades, Thomas has prioritized his expensive lifestyle, his wife’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election, and the agenda of extremist mega donors over impartiality, justice, and American democracy.

And Thomas isn’t alone. The corruption at the Court runs deeper. It’s led to the degradation of the public’s trust in the institution, which is now at an all-time low.

Justice Samuel Alito has made a habit of cozying up to rightwing activists with matters before the Court, evendisclosing the outcome of cases months before they’re released.

A federal panel of judges found 83 ethics complaints against Justice Brett Kavanaugh related to alleged sexual assault, lies he told to the Senate, and other ethical violations to be “serious.”

The Supreme Court has also been unduly influenced by shadowy organizations like the Federalist Society and Koch-backed dark money groups, which have spent $600 million to radicalize the judiciary.

And they have received a great return on their investments. Federalist Society Justices threw out nearly 40 years of precedent to overturn Roe v. Wade, continued to roll back the fundamental right to vote, struck down common sense gun safety laws, and opened the door to even more dark money in our elections despite significant conflict of interest concerns for Justices Barrett, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh.

Chief Justice John Roberts has the power to implement a code of ethics to hold Justices accountable and begin to clean up the Court. Yet, he has refused to take responsibility.

In the absence of Roberts’ willingness to protect the integrity of the Court, Congress must act. Swiftly.

First, the Senate Judiciary Committee should immediately investigate all of Thomas’ unethical, illegal conduct. Congress should also move to impeach Thomas. The case is strong.

Next, Congress must pass ethics legislation.

The Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency Act would establish a Code of Conduct for Supreme Court Justices and establish mechanisms to enforce ethics and recusal rules. The DISCLOSE Act would bring the dark money being spent to influence judicial confirmations into the light.

Taken together, these reforms would bring accountability and transparency to the Court.

Without these reforms, the integrity of the Court will continue to spiral. Faith in the Court will further degrade. Americans will not trust its outcomes.

About the Author

Tiffany Muller is the President of End Citizens United and Let America Vote, the largest grassroots campaign finance reform and voting rights organization in the country.

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