Monday, June 27, 2011

Remember Abe Fortas? Clarence Thomas Doesn't

Those of us of a certain age can vaguely recall, if we try, the career of jurist Abe Fortas, who was a star in the judicial firmament thanks in large part to his friendship with Lyndon Johnson, who appointed him to SCOTUS in 1965.

Fortas streaked across the judicial sky like a meteorite, and burnt out just as fast. When Johnson in 1968 took the unusual-at-the-time step of trying to elevate him from being just another justice to the Chief Justice position on the retirement of Earl Warren, the shit hit the fan.

Powerful Dixiecrat members of the US Senate, including the powerful racist and anti-Semitic (Fortas was Jewish) chairman of the Judicial Committee, Mississippi's James Eastland, along with help from our old good buddy Strom Thurmond, put the skids to the appointment.

It seems that Fortas had accepted some $15,000 for nine speaking engagements at the American University School of Law. These were paid for not by university funds, but through a "business interest" that represented 40 businesses. Thurmond in particular went ballistic, saying that cases involving these companies "might" come to The Court and that Fortas "might" not be objective.

It sounds like pretty thin stuff now, but back then apparently it wasn't. Fortas was not only denied the Chief Justice job (it went unfilled until the incoming president, Tricky Dick Nixon, appointed Warren Burger) but the next year, after it was discovered that he had taken at one time a $20,000 retainer from the family foundation of a Wall Street banker, he was in trouble again. Even though when the banker's case eventually came before the Supremes Fortas recused himself, he was still ultimately forced to resign from the court in shame.

Shame. That's a powerful motivator, but apparently it doesn't work any more. At least not when it comes to the Supreme Court. Let's look at Clarence Thomas.

Thomas, while sitting on the court, has become a poster child for not only judicial activism of a rightwing nature, but also bad judicial ethics. According to William Rivers Pitt's description, Thomas has

turned his position on the court into a license to print money for himself, his family, and a few choice friends.
Conservative corruption is nothing new in Washington, but Mr. Thomas has taken the practice to bold new heights, and finally, people are beginning to sit up and take notice. Thomas has been playing fast and loose with judicial ethics for a long time now, and though Supreme Court Justices are not technically beholden to judicial rules of ethics, his behavior has become so egregious as to warrant deep attention, and in my opinion, removal from the high court.
For example, Thomas has a bust of Lincoln (why I do not know, since everything Lincoln stood for appears to be antithetical to what Thomas seems to believe) given him by the leader of the American Enterprise Institute in 2001. The bust was worth 15,000, yet when in the intervening years the Institute filed briefs in SCOTUS cases, Thomas refused to recuse himself.

When you add the half million dollars his wife got to set up her Tea Party, the fees for speaking at rightwing meetings, etc etc., the list adds up to some pretty shameful behavior.

Not that old Uncle Clarence feels any shame. He's been workin' in the white folks house for so long that he looks down on the rest of us out here in the backwaters of the Great Unwashed. If we can't get our own share of the millions of dollars being doled out from the vast resources of the vast rightwing conspiracy, well, shucks, that just our own damn faults...

It's time for Clarence Thomas to go. He is an embarrassment to the nation, to the court, and to the law profession.