Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Of Two GOP Politicians

It's easy to be a bully, picking on the weak and powerless. Just ask Governor Chris Christie, running down teachers and other public employees, pandering to the extreme wing of his extreme party, and running out on New Jersey, apparently because his wife wanted to spend some time in Disney World.

But Justices of the United States Supreme Court? The Supreme Court is not only the highest court in the land, but virtually invulnerable, determining its own rules. Nobody, but nobody is the boss of the Supreme Court.

And so Politico informs us that

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has amended 13 years’ worth of disclosure reports to include details of wife Virginia Thomas’s sources of income, documents released on Monday show.

The documents indicate that Thomas’s wife, who goes by Ginni, had worked for Hillsdale College in Michigan, the Heritage Foundation and the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives, among other entities.

Like all federal judges, Thomas must file annual disclosure reports on his personal finances, but he had omitted details of his wife’s earnings in what he wrote was a “misunderstanding of the filing instructions.” He also had checked a box marking no spousal income.

Thomas did not include in his new submissions any information about Ginni’s work for Liberty Central, a tea-party-affiliated group. The group’s 2009 990 tax form did not include any payments to her and she stepped down from her official role with the group in November.

Last week, watchdog group Common Cause reported that none of the nearly $690,000 the Heritage Foundation said it had paid Ginni Thomas between 2003 and 2007 had been reported on Justice Thomas’s annual financial disclosure forms.

One wonders: does the federal employee, whose pay President Obama and most congressional Republicans want frozen, hide the income of his or her spouse? Is the rare federal employee whose spouse has earned well over $100,000 per year, as Mrs. Thomas normally did, blissfully unaware?

Let's not, however, be exorcised about an Associate Justice hiding his wife's income from the Internal Revenue Service. It is an oversight, or omission, typical of that made by many Americans intent on lowering their taxable income, law be damned. Maybe you, too, forgot to mention your spouse's income of 2009 and are reading this from the federal penitentiary.

Perhaps Justice Thomas found it all too convenient to forget to remember his wife's work for the Heritage Foundation because, as Think Progress has found

In 2009, while the Supreme Court heard arguments regarding the Citizens United case, Justice Thomas was featured at the annual fundraiser for the Heritage Foundation — and sat at a table for donors with investment banker Thomas Saunders and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC).

Anyone can make a mistake, though when Justice Thomas forgot to recuse himself from the Citizens United case (in which he voted on behalf of Citizens United and direct corporate funding of political campaigns), the mistake might appear to be quite deliberate. That is nearly as likely as it is reprehensible given, as Think Progress notes, Justice Thomas has appeared as a speaker at meetings held by corporate billionaire and oil tycoon Charles Koch, who in 2006

revealed to the Wall Street Journal’s Stephen Moore that he coordinates the funding of the conservative infrastructure of front groups, political campaigns, think tanks, media outlets and other anti-government efforts through a twice annual meeting of wealthy right-wing donors. He also confided to Moore, who is funded through several of Koch’s ventures, that his true goal is to strengthen the “culture of prosperity” by eliminating “90%” of all laws and government regulations. Although it is difficult to quantify the exact amount Koch alone has funneled to right-wing fronts, some studies have pointed toward $50 million he has given alone to anti-environmental groups. Recently, fronts funded by Charles and his brother David have received scrutiny because they have played a pivotal role in the organizing of the anti-Obama Tea Parties and the promotion of virulent far right lawmakers like Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC). (David Koch praised DeMint and gave him a “Washington Award” shortly after the senator promised to “break” Obama by making health reform his “Waterloo.”)

But, then, Justice Thomas is not alone in actively fostering the corporate agenda, with Justice Antonin Scalia also having been a speaker at Koch events. Sure, asssisting a political fundraising event would be a clear violation of the Code of Conduct for United States Judges, if the Supreme Court had not exempted it and its employees from the Code of Conduct for Judicial Employees.

That is especially convenient for Antonin Scalia, who now is addressing the Tea Party Caucus's first "Conservative Constitutional Seminar" event. It is open to the public, but closed to the media and there will be no official record of the event, demonstrating the commitment of the Republican ultra-right to transparency. And it is organized by Representative Michelle Bachmann (R-MN), who is threatening to run for the GOP presidential nomination and is one of 63 House members to have filed a brief in support of the lawsuit by more than two dozen states challenging the Affordable Care Act. That likely to reach the Supreme Court and Justice Scalia is demonstrating his allegiance to judicial ethics by palling around with Bachmann.

The actions of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas may feature a splendid commingling of conflict of interest, greed, corporate power, and the appearance of corruption. (Common Cause petition, pertaining to Citizens United, here.) But they tell us nothing further about the commitment of either judge to GOP politics. Cenk Uygur, MSNBC host in the hour previously occupied by Ed Schultz, last night reminded us of Bush v. Gore, in which both Justices voted to stop counting election ballots. Barely suppressing a nod and a wink, Scalia assured the nation and its legal community that the decision never would be used as precedent. ("Hey, I know the ruling stinks, but five of us want a Republican President.") If anyone were concerned about the objectivity of these guys, Uygur noted, "that ship sailed a long time ago."

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