In 1969, Justice Abe Fortas resigned his seat at the Supreme Court for accepting $15,000 in exchange for a series of paid lectures at American University. Part of the Fortas scandal...
In 1969, Justice Abe Fortas resigned his seat at the Supreme Court for accepting $15,000 in exchange for a series of paid lectures at American University. Part of the Fortas scandal also involved news of him accepting a stipend for doing legal work for a very rich friend (money he had actually returned when the benefactor was indicted and before the outcry).
None of Fortas’ colleagues defended him for this. No one blamed the press or even the Nixon administration (which very much orchestrated the ouster). It was widely understood that Fortas had done something that undermined the public legitimacy and independence of the court and that he had to go.
Over the past few weeks we have learned that Justice Clarence Thomas took multiple luxury vacations, valued in millions of dollars, over many years, paid for by Harlan Crow, a billionaire GOP donor who has business before the court. We know that Crow had also contributed the $500,000 seed money that became Ginni Thomas’ Liberty Central, which paid her salary. We also know that Crow purchased the home in which Thomas’ mother currently resides rent-free. And late last week, we learned that Crow paid years’ worth of private school tuition for Thomas’ grandnephew, Mark Martin, of whom Thomas had legal custody and whom Thomas was, as he put it, “raising as a son.” Thomas knew that such gifts needed to be disclosed because he did so with another tuition payment gifted to Martin in 2002. But he did not report the tuition Crow paid.
Last Thursday, we also learned that in January 2012, Leonard Leo arranged to have Ginni Thomas paid $25,000 for consulting work through Kellyanne Conway’s polling company. The funds came from the Judicial Education Project, a dark money group that listed its address as a UPS Store in Georgetown. Leo’s instruction to Conway asked her to funnel the cash to Ginni, and took care to note that the paperwork should have “No mention of Ginni, of course.” A few short months later, the Judicial Education Project filed an amicus brief in Shelby County v. Holder, arguing for the dismantlement of the Voting Rights Act. Shelby County was a 5–4 decision, with Thomas in the majority.
The insult-comic response to all these revelations has been some sighing version of “I sure wish I had friends like Harlan Crow” and “I sure wish I had friends like Leonard Leo.” The problem is, most of the justices, and certainly most politicians and judges and people of generalized fanciness, already do have friends like Harlan Crow. American governance is so inextricably bound up with capitalism and cronyism that the shocker would in fact be if justices didn’t have a few friends who were the sort of wealthy political operatives who could buy them a pony or two on demand.