Dem 51
image description
GOP 49
image description

ProPublica Has Found More Dirt on Clarence Thomas

Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Clarence Thomas may just be able to get away with all the vacations and other perks that Harlan Crow bestowed upon him. He's claiming that he just didn't know that it was against the rules to take half-million-dollar vacations and then fail to report that fact. Because "the rules" were pretty vague (until recently), and because there are very few ways in which SCOTUS justices can be held accountable for their misdeeds, his plan to muddy the waters until this all blows over is certainly viable.

Yesterday, however, the plot thickened. The folks at ProPublica are on a mission, it would seem, and now they've found something even more damning. As it turns out, Thomas sold several houses to Crow and did not report those transactions. If that were not enough, Crow spent a fair bit of money fixing up the houses and paying their property taxes. Eventually, the billionaire sold two of the three properties, but he continues to hold the title and to pay property taxes on the third, which got the bulk of the renovations. Oh, and there's someone living in that house, apparently rent-free. That would be Leola Williams, who is the Justice's elderly mother.

Thomas' argument, when it comes to the vacations, is that they were hospitality extended to him and his wife by a close family friend. Again, the law on that point is a little bit ambiguous. On the other hand, 5 U.S. Code 13104 is very clear that federal officials must report "any purchase, sale or exchange during the preceding calendar year which exceeds $1,000," with exceptions only for: (1) property that serves as the person's primary residence, and (2) stocks, bonds and other securities. The properties sold for $133,363, and Thomas was a 1/3 owner, so he got $44,454. That's way more than $1,000, and Thomas did not report it. And then on top of that is the apparent free lodging given to Thomas' mother.

In short, the Justice has clearly broken the law here. Will there be any consequences for him? Probably not, since he has no shame, and since Republicans in the Senate would keep Charles Manson in that seat if he was a reliable conservative vote. But this could give some momentum to (mostly) Democratic efforts to adopt a more substantive code of ethics for Supreme Court justices, one with actual teeth when it comes to miscreants. And beyond that, who knows what other skeletons ProPublica will discover in Thomas' closet? (Z)

This item appeared on Read it Monday through Friday for political and election news, Saturday for answers to reader's questions, and Sunday for letters from readers.                     State polls                     All Senate candidates