In a May 5, 2015 UCLA Law Review article, the late conservative Republican Utah senator, Orin G. Hatch, made this constitutional observation in an argument against the Affordable Care Act:
“From the early days of the Republic, a core component of our constitutional character has been the idea that our government is a government of laws and not of men. This means that our leaders—elected and appointed—are constrained by the words in our statute books and in our Constitution. Government officials must follow the law, even when their personal predilections would lead them in a different direction. This prevents arbitrary decision making and keeps executive discretion within proper bounds.”
Simply put, this means that no member of the United States government is above the rule of law.
The U.S. Supreme Court, in one of its most historical decisions, Marbury v. Madison, entrenched this governmental value into a constitutional duty with this explicit finding: “The government of the United States has been emphatically termed a government of laws, and not of men.”
More than two centuries later conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia added this definition to the rule of law doctrine:
“To be governed by legislated text rather than legislators’ intentions is what it means to be ‘a Government of laws, not of men.”
Apparently, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas believes that the “rule of law” does not apply to him.
In an April 13, 2023, investigative piece, ProPublica reported that in 2014 a Texas billionaire real estate magnate and mega-donor to GOP causes, Harlan Crow, purchased two vacant lots and a single-story dwelling in Savannah, Georgia. Crow’s company paid the three owners $133,363 for the properties.
It would have been just another small real estate deal for the Texas billionaire except for one thing: Justice Thomas was one of the co-owners of the properties, and his mother resided in the house purchased by Crow.
The GOP mega-donor’s company immediately began pumping tens of thousands of dollars into improving the house where Thomas’ mother continued to reside and sprucing up the two adjacent properties.
The Texas billionaire became what he calls “family friends” with Thomas and his wife Ginni after the Republican jurist ascended to the Supreme Court in 1991.
For more than two decades, Crow has showered the Thomases with mind-boggling expensive gifts and luxurious vacation trips around the world in what has been described as family get-togethers on the billionaire’s multi-million dollar yacht and private jet.
Of course, Justice Thomas did not feel he was ethically obligated to report these extraordinary benefits on his financial disclosure forms that Supreme Court justices must publically file each year under the Ethics in Government Act of 1978.
This law requires all judges, including Supreme Court justices, to disclose gifts and financial benefits except for “personal hospitality,” such as meals paid for by others or stays at a family friend’s home. In particular, the law requires disclosing any real estate sales over $1,000.
So, against the backdrop of these legal requirements, Justice Thomas decided the millions of dollars in gifts and benefits flowing from his friend Harlan Crow should remain secret from public disclosure until it was disclosed by another ProPublica report published on April 6, 2023.
In March of 2022, Justice Thomas failed to recuse himself in three cases challenging the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s presidency fueled by right-wing conspiracy theorists, including his wife, Ginni—a QAnon conspiracy-driven adherent, including a vote to stop the January 6 committee from obtaining records that may have contained some of her communications.
And since he did feel it was necessary to report the Harlan Crow gifts and vacations, Justice Thomas decided he could ignore the law requiring him to report any monies received from the sale of real estate—a law enacted following the infamous Watergate Scandal intended to shed public light on the personal dealings of elected and appointed government officials, including U.S. Supreme Court justices, to ensure a government of laws, not men.
Justice Thomas has been an unwavering “originalist” throughout his more than three decades on the Supreme Court. Like the late Justice Scalia, he continuously espouses the constitutional principle that the United States is a “government of laws, not men.”
But when it comes to dealings with “family friends” that line his personal life with expensive gifts and resort vacations and enhance his financial portfolio with real estate profits, Thomas does not believe he has to follow the rule of law.
While the justice may be able to play coy and shirk an ethical obligation to report the gifts and vacations on his financial disclosures, he required by law to report the profits he made from the 2014 real estate deal with Harlan Crow’s company.
Justice Thomas’s personal and professional hypocrisy on this issue is enough to gag the “maggot.”
Just last year, Thomas had the gall to tell a gathering of judges and lawyers in Atlanta that the declining disrespect Americans feel toward the Supreme Court and judiciary in general “bodes ill for a free society.”
Yet this is Justice Thomas whose partisan alliances and ethical vacuum now lead the cause for this disrespect.
It is this very kind of flagrant disregard for judicial ethics, led by the likes of Justice Thomas, that feeds the American public’s negative views toward the nation’s judiciary, and the Supreme Court in particular—views of utter contempt and disrespect.
In a May 16, 2022, opinion piece in The Hill, former Idaho Supreme Court Justice Jim Jones said as much:
“Thomas and some of his ideologically driven compatriots on the Supreme Court have shaken public confidence in the law, particularly since they achieved a supermajority on the court. The Supreme Court has taken on the aura of a high-powered political instrument for the right-wing of the Republican Party. The justices realize that they are no longer bound by checks, balances and enforceable ethical restraints.”
That’s why Justice Thomas did not disclose his political-motivated gifts and special favors he received from a billionaire. He felt obligated not by ethics but by personal interest to vote in favor of any case that came before the court that benefitted his billionaire gift-benefactor or the political causes he supports.
Clarence Thomas will not resign. He knows he is above the law. He will continue to line his pockets with privileges and favors from the highest bidder. That will be his legacy—a justice willing to sell his vote for a vacation trip on a private jet to Indonesia.
Nonetheless, we join so many others in once again calling for the justice to step down and devote his energies to those conservative ideologies he so cherishes.