By Roy S. Johnson
This is an opinion column.
I was never comfortable with Clarence Thomas as a U.S. Supreme Court justice. Even before he was narrowly confirmed (52-48) by the Senate on October 15, 1991.
Even before he became the mute justice, going an astonishing 10 years and a week between questions from the bench during oral arguments.
Even before he became the highest court’s conservative sphinx, entrenched in his “originalist” interpretations of the U.S. Constitution, continuously offering stone-hearted rulings that were often detrimental to people the court is called to protect. People who’ve been historically marginalized, ignored, or discriminated against.
Even before he became slavishly beholding to rich, power-clutching friends—fishing buddies who floated him and, and wife Ginni in a lifestyle they could not afford. One he kept secret until recently. One he still brazenly defends, mocking us all.
I wasn’t comfortable after watching, like most of America, 11 days of the riveting, contentious, and salacious confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee starring graphic, creepy allegations of sexual harassment by Anita Hill while she was employed by Thomas at the U.S. Department of Education and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
It took me years to extricate the words “Coke can” and “pubic hair” from my brain. I don’t think I’ve consumed that soda brand in almost 32 years.
Thomas had his defenders then, just as Hill had hers—each side as staunchly certain as the other. Each side as passionate as the other. It was painful to watch, to see erudite, educated brothers and sisters attacking each other.
It was a punch in the gut to most Black Americans; it certainly was to me.
I just wasn’t comfortable that Thomas would forever be the man who followed Thurgood Marshall, that he’d be the second Black man on the Supreme Court. (I initially typed “…the man who stepped into the robe of Thurgood…” but could type no further. Backspace. Backspace. Backspace….)
Now, perhaps worst of all, we know Clarence Thomas doesn’t care.
That they flew on his private jet, embraced ultra-expensive gifts and vacations from him, accepted two years of private school tuition from him for a child the couple raised, and that Thomas sold his momma’s home to the rich guy almost a decade ago. She still lives there.
Thomas isn’t the only SCOTUS justice in an ethical bind. Associate justice Samiel Alito took at least one luxury fishing trip with Republican hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer, ProPublica reported this summer. Singer later had cases before the court, from which Alito did not recuse himself. Justice Sonia Sotomayor is alleged to have had her staff pressure colleges and other institutions to buy her book.
Thomas didn’t think he had to disclose the perks until after they were exposed by ProPublica earlier this year.
Not even early last year, when it was revealed Ginni had sent 29 text messages to then-high White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows poking him to go all-in to overturn the 2020 presidential election based on, well, nothing of any merit.
Supreme Court appointments are forever, as we know—for a lifetime. From confirmation to casket. The Constitution declares justices “shall hold their offices during good Behavior,” yet our Founding Fathers took Happy Hour before defining bad behavior.
Among the 116 associate or chief justices who’ve served only one, just one, was ever impeached. In March of 1804, Samiel Chase, a volatile Federalist with a penchant for partisan rhetoric (he’d fit right in today), was spanked with eight Articles of Impeachment by the House.
Almost a year later to the day, a majority of the Senate found Chase guilty on three of the eight charges, but a two-thirds majority is required for guilt. Chase escaped, serving out his lifetime gig until his death in 1811.
The Supremely robed, in essence, get a pass. A forever pass.
No matter how …
Last month the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency Act, a bill that would tighten the now-wobbly rules on ethics, recusal, and financial transparency for Supreme Court justices.
But only narrowly—11-10, directly along party lines.
Ethics should not be partisan. No American, no matter their party, should want any matter judged by one whose belly (or bank account) has been filled by someone with a stake in the outcome. Yet Republicans seem to have little interest in judicial integrity.
Should the bill survive the Senate, where Democrats have a slim edge, it’ll still likely die in the Republican-controlled House.
While Thomas and Aliota go fishin’.
Supreme mockery. Of all of us.