On the Ethics of the Politics of Justice

Discussion in 'Ethics, Morality, & Justice' started by Tiassa, Apr 14, 2023.

  1. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Valued Senior Member

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    The Story So Far

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    Flashback: Justice Thomas yuks it up with special interests, ca. 2011.

    Will Stancil↱ explains:

    I feel like people are losing perspective. A billionaire subsidized millions in luxury travel for a Supreme Court justice, then BOUGHT THE JUSTICE'S PARENT'S HOUSE, AND LET THEM STAY IN IT WHILE HE PAID FOR IT. Short of envelopes of money, how much more crooked could you get?

    There's this instinct to go “Well, maybe this is less than it seems,” but the known and proven facts are horrible, standing alone. This guy was heavily subsidizing a Supreme Court judge's bougie lifestyle and all of it was conspicuously undisclosed. That's the ball game!

    The backstory, for those who need it, is pretty straightforward: Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas failed to report extraordinary gifts and other benefits from conservative donor Harlan Crow:

    For more than two decades, Thomas has accepted luxury trips virtually every year from the Dallas businessman without disclosing them, documents and interviews show. A public servant who has a salary of $285,000, he has vacationed on Crow's superyacht around the globe. He flies on Crow's Bombardier Global 5000 jet. He has gone with Crow to the Bohemian Grove, the exclusive California all-male retreat, and to Crow's sprawling ranch in East Texas. And Thomas typically spends about a week every summer at Crow's private resort in the Adirondacks.

    The extent and frequency of Crow's apparent gifts to Thomas have no known precedent in the modern history of the U.S. Supreme Court.

    These trips appeared nowhere on Thomas' financial disclosures. His failure to report the flights appears to violate a law passed after Watergate that requires justices, judges, members of Congress and federal officials to disclose most gifts, two ethics law experts said. He also should have disclosed his trips on the yacht, these experts said.

    In the days since ProPublica↱ reported the largesse, emerging details have only lent to grotesquerie: Mr. Crow is a collector of Nazi memorabilia, and keeps statues of tyrants in his garden; he has given money to a political organization that pays Ginni Thomas; Justice Thomas failed to disclose that income, as well. And we are to believe the reason he did not disclose these benefits is that a man qualified to sit on the Supreme Court of the United States did not know the rules of his own office, and could not imagine a half-million dollar vacation, might be something he would need to report. Stancil↱ wonders, "Could Elon Musk install Brett Kavanaugh directly into a 5,000 square foot penthouse suite in Hawaii for a month? Could Peter Thiel give Alito a personal helicopter and pilot?"

    So as conservatives step up to attest to Justice Clarence Thomas' integrity, remember, as Stancil put it, "the known and proven facts are horrible".

    Oh, right, there's also the part where, once again, we need to be really careful about not reading too much into a why an influential, authoritarian, traditionalist billionaire mgiht collect Hitler memorabilia.

    But it certainly does seem a lot of politickling to justify the ethics of a Supreme Court justice.
    ____________________

    Notes:

    @whstancil. "I feel like people are losing perspective. A billionaire subsidized millions in luxury travel for a Supreme Court justice, then BOUGHT THE JUSTICE’S PARENT’S HOUSE, AND LET THEM STAY IN IT WHILE HE PAID FOR IT. Short of envelopes of money, how much more crooked could you get?". (thread) Twitter. 13 April 2023. Twitter.com. 14 April 2023. https://bit.ly/3MM7SEw

    Kaplan, Joshua, Justin Elliott, and Alex Mierjeski. "Clarence Thomas and the Billionaire". ProPublica. 6 April 2023. ProPublica.org. 14 April 2023. https://bit.ly/3GI26j6
     
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  3. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

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    As troubling as it appears on the outside, is there any evidence that it has influenced his rulings over that timeframe? And will the revelation result in anything significant, such as his resignation from office, perhaps? (Although even if it does I guess he'll be smart enough to do so when a Republican President is in office.)
     
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  5. billvon Valued Senior Member

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    Well, we do have evidence that the Supreme Court is reversing decades of established law on several topics, all of which are beneficial to (and/or aligned with the desires of) his benefactor.

    But don't worry. His benefactor had this to say: "we have never sought to influence Justice Thomas on any legal or political issue." So no worries there.

    He will not resign, nor will he be forced to. Power breeds power, and the right has the power right now.
     
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  7. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Valued Senior Member

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    Depends on what you call evidence or influence. All the justices, for instance, are said to have some conflict per U.S. v. McDonnell, but that is also what is described as an appearance of impropriety; inasmuch as they are supposed to avoid such appearances, there comes a point at which the idea that Justice Thomas didn't know is problematic.

    For instance, mine is an American football family; my father was a college coach. In collegiate sports there have long been ethics rules about how to treat the athletes that are so strict that giving a player a pair of shoes while he stands barefoot in the rain outside his residence while it burns down would be a violation. And while this seems obviously stupid, apparently the parts with hookers, submachine guns, piles of cocaine, wads of cash, and even a house for the parents, were too subtle for the highest-paid state employee to figure out.

    And if a football coach in Oklahoma can't figure out that steroids, uzis, and cocaine are a bad mix, well, sure, it's a gladiator sport in which you have to be really, really smart in order to get the best jobs concussing into dementia.

    But a Supreme Court justice is someone who spent their life learning how to understand rules. Right now, the best excuse for the lifetime-appointed arbiter of the constitution is that he is not competent to understand the duties of his job.

    Compared to the old NCAA rules prohibiting benefits for student athletes, did a justice accept an award plaque or statue worth more than some value? Did a politician fail to disclose that cigar in the photo? Right, some of those campaign and office ethics laws can feel weird and easy to accidentally violate, but this is a parent's home, vacations worth more than most Americans make in a year, and somewhere in it all is talk of lobbying access, i.e., questions of who else Justice Thomas encountered in Crow's circles.

    But evidence of influence? Sure, some people, these days, leave notes on how they commit their crimes, but that's the thing about influence and appearance of impropriety. Thomas has been this way for so long it's almost impossible that it doesn't influence him; indeed, that's the whole point of some of these associations. But, depending on what evidence we want of what influence, that will be a tougher question.

    It's why they're supposed to avoid even the appearance. And, sure, almost anyone who holds office long enough will eventually run afoul of these rules, but think of it like saying the bottle of wine costs forty-eight dollars at the grocery store in order to not report the two hundred fifty dollar bottle of wine at the country club, and, sure, that's bullshit, but anyone is welcome to get up and pretend they can't tell the difference between that bullshit and a half-million dollars worth of travel and accommodations in one go, or buying a house so the judge's mother can live in it.
     
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  8. Jeeves Valued Senior Member

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    The guy was sleaze from the get-go and everybody knew it. What's new? Next, we'll discover that Brett M. Kavanaugh is a date-raper?
     
  9. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Valued Senior Member

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    Steve Greenhouse↱ reminds a point easily overlooked:

    Harlan Crow is chairman of the board of the American Enterprise Institute. AEI may not be a direct litigant, but it files MANY amicus briefs with the court.

    That creates a huge conflict of interest for Thomas.

    Or, as already observed↑, "the known and proven facts are horrible". This is a substantial problem for both Justice Thomas and the Supreme Court.
    ____________________

    Notes:

    @greenhousenyt. "One thing the media keeps missing about the Clarence Thomas scandal. Harlan Crow is chairman of the board of the American Enterprise Institute. AEI may not be a direct litigant, but it files MANY amicus briefs with the court. That creates a huge conflict of interest for Thomas." Twitter. 14 April 2023. Twitter.com. 14 April 2023. https://bit.ly/3mBD0f6
     
  10. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

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    Sure, I get that, but unless something happens as a result, isn't this all a case of "so what?" If he isn't sanctioned as a result, admonished, if his gift-receiving doesn't somehow affect the verdicts of the Court, then, sure, everyone can say "well, that doesn't sit right that he's receiving all these expensive gifts / donations etc", but what's actually going to happen? Even if all the Justices are guilty of the same... other than look bad, what is the outcome? Even if everyone is disappointed that it happens, even if it somehow works to lessen their stature in everyone's eyes, their rulings are still going to stand, noone's going to be sacked, and life will just go on as it has done. All that may come out of this is that there is a realisation, if not acceptance, that Justices aren't as lily-white as they ought to be.
    So, the question for me, I guess, is how can they be held accountable for such activity? What is stopping them carrying on as they have been?
    Yes, "the known and proven facts are horrible", but, ultimately, is it just a case of "so what"?
     
  11. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Valued Senior Member

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    It Happened Again

    Per Washington Post:

    Over the last two decades, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has reported on required financial disclosure forms that his family received rental income totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars from a firm called Ginger, Ltd., Partnership.

    But that company — a Nebraska real estate firm launched in the 1980s by his wife and her relatives — has not existed since 2006.

    That year, the family real estate company was shut down and a separate firm was created, state incorporation records show. The similarly named firm assumed control of the shuttered company's land leasing business, according to property records.

    Since that time, however, Thomas has continued to report income from the defunct company — between $50,000 and $100,000 annually in recent years — and there is no mention of the newer firm, Ginger Holdings, LLC, on the forms ....

    .... Thomas's disclosure history is in the spotlight after ProPublica revealed this month that a Texas billionaire took him on lavish vacations and also bought from Thomas and his relatives a Georgia home where his mother lives, a transaction that was not disclosed on the forms. Thomas said in a statement that colleagues he did not name told him he did not have to report the vacations and that he has always tried to comply with disclosure guidelines. He has not publicly addressed the property transaction.

    In 2011, after the watchdog group Common Cause raised red flags, Thomas updated years of his financial disclosure reports to include employment details for his wife, conservative activist Virginia “Ginni” Thomas. The justice said at the time that he had not understood the filing instructions. In 2020, he was forced to revise his disclosure forms after a different watchdog group found he had failed to report reimbursements for trips to speak at two law schools.

    And the thing is, as Mark Joseph Stern↱ suggests, "the federal disclosure law that Thomas flouted … punishes both failure to disclose AND disclosure of false information", and it "seems clear he did both". Stephen Gillers, of New York University, told the Post, "Any presumption in favor of Thomas's integrity and commitment to comply with the law is gone. His assurances and promises cannot be trusted." Moreover, "We need the public to respect it even when it disagrees", he explains, and "that respect is now in serious jeopardy".

    The Ginger Ltd. Partnership was a family company, "its partners were Ginni Thomas, her parents and her three siblings"; the firm operated from 1982-2006. It was replaced, on paper, by Ginger Holdings, LLC, with Ginni Thomas' sister listed as manager. "Reached by phone," the Post reports, "[Joanne K.] Elliott referred questions about the two companies to Ginni Thomas", who "could answer anything that she wants you to know". Still, "Ginni Thomas is not named in state incorporation records related to Ginger Holdings, LLC."

    It seems poor Clarence can just never get it right. Or, as Allison Gill↱ suggests, "If you're incapable of understanding financial disclosure forms, you shouldn't be interpreting the constitution".
    ____________________

    Notes:

    @mjs_DC. "One interesting feature of the federal disclosure law that Thomas flouted is that it punishes both failure to disclose AND disclosure of false information—seems clear he did both. Oh well!" Twitter. 16 April 2023. Twitter.com. 16 April 2023. https://bit.ly/408RWPr

    @MuellerSheWrote. "If you're incapable of understanding financial disclosure forms, you shouldn't be interpreting the constitution". Twitter. 16 April 2023. Twitter.com. 16 April 2023. https://bit.ly/41buEK5

    Boburg, Shawn and Emma Brown. "Clarence Thomas has for years claimed income from a defunct real estate firm". The Washington Post. 16 April 2023. WashingtonPost.com. 16 April 2023. https://bit.ly/3ohn6ai
     

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