Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Ethical Challenges of Clarence Thomas

Anita Hill's was interviewed in the Magazine section of the Sunday Times to discuss her new book "Reimagining Equality," and was asked about her testimony at Clarence Thomas' confirmation hearing 20 years ago.  She noted how the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate at large were unprepared to deal with gender discrimination.  As she put it, "I don't know that they understood how important the issue was to the integrity of the Supreme Court and to the fitness of the individual who was going on the court."

You can say that again.

I've written before about Clarence Thomas' ethical lapses, conduct that would clearly seem to violate the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges, but for the fact that the Justices have exempted themselves from the ethical rules governing other federal judges.

While Supreme Court justices may be exempt from the judicial code, they are not exempt from other laws.  Accordingly, twenty members of Congress are seeking a federal investigation of Thomas' failure to comply with the Ethics in Government Act.  In a letter to the Judicial Conference, the administrative arm of the federal courts, they noted that Thomas omitted his wife's income on financial disclosure forms.  At minimum, Ginni Thomas earned almost $700,000 from the Heritage Foundation, a right wing think tank, between 2003 and 2007, but Justice Thomas checked a box titled "none" on the forms, indicating that she had received no income.

The letter also referenced a New York Times report that Thomas may have, "on several occasions, benefited from use of a private yacht and airplane owned by Harlan Crow, and again failed to disclose this travel as a gift or travel reimbursement on his federal disclosure forms as required."

The Judicial Conference was asked to refer Thomas's non-compliance with the Ethics in Government Act to the Department of Justice:
Section 104(b) of the Ethics in Government Act requires the Judicial Conference to refer to the Attorney General of the United States any judge who the Conference "has reasonable cause to believe has willfully failed to file a report or has willfully falsified or willfully failed to file information required to be reported."  If the Judicial Conference finds reasonable cause to believe that Justice Thomas has "willfully falsified or willfully failed to file information to be reported," it must, pursuant to §104, refer the case to the Attorney General for further determination of possible criminal or civil legal sanctions.
"Particularly as questions surrounding the integrity and fairness of the Supreme Court continue to grow," the letter concludes, "it is vital that the Judicial Conference actively pursue any suspicious actions by Supreme Court Justices." 

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