Originally posted on American Constitution Society's blog, June 23, 2011.
Murphy’s letter follows a recent report in The New York Times about Justice Clarence Thomas’s connections to Harlan Crow, “a major contributor to conservative causes,” including allegedly providing $500,000 to Thomas’s wife, Virginia, to launch a Tea Party group that worked to scuttle the landmark health care reform law. Thomas, The Times reported, has received other gifts from Crow, who has also donated $175,000 to a museum being constructed in the justice’s birthplace of Pin Point, Ga., which undoubtedly celebrate Thomas.
Common Cause, last year called on the Justice Department to look into other political connections of Thomas, as well as Justice Antonin Scalia.
In a press statement following The Times story, Common Cause President Bob Edgar asked, “Has Justice Thomas been traveling on a developer’s private jet and yacht, on the developer’s dime, while reporting that his expenses were borne by someone else? Do Supreme Court justices get a pass on the ethical standards that every other judge must meet?”
In his letter, obtained by Think Progress, to the House Judiciary Committee leadership, Rep. Murphy states:
Recent revelations about Justice Thomas accepting tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of gifts from individuals and organizations who often have an interest in matters before the courts calls into question the Court’s impartiality. Canon 4D of the Code of Conduct incorporates regulations providing that ‘[a] judicial officer or employee shall not accept a gift from anyone who is seeking official action from or doing business with the court.’ Yet Justice Thomas received a gift valued at $15,000 from an organization that had a brief pending before his Court at the very moment they gave him the gift. Incidents such as these undermine the integrity of the entire judiciary, and they should not be allowed to continue.At the moment the high court justices are not bound by the code of conduct for federal judges, though they claim to adhere to it.
In an editorial dubbed “Cloud Over the Court,” The Times said it appears that Thomas doesn’t “believe that he needs to adhere to those rules.”
The editorial concluded:
This case is the latest evidence that the Supreme Court’s voluntary compliance with the judges’ conduct code isn’t enough to protect impartiality and credibility. Justice Thomas seems utterly unconcerned with those rules. In January, he acknowledged that, over the last six years, he had failed to disclose his wife’s employment with conservative organizations, in violation of the 1978 Ethics in Government Act. The Supreme Court must adopt the rigorous code of conduct that applies to all other parts of the federal judiciary.
Millhiser has more on the high court judicial ethics here.
[Related posts: If You Have Nothing Nice To Say; Just Politics; Activist Judges]