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Robert Reich

Clarence Thomas and the politicization of the Supreme Court

Justice Thomas has accused others of politicizing the court, but he's guilty of doing so, too.

By Guest blogger / March 4, 2011

Associate Justice Clarence Thomas sits with other Supreme Court judges for a new group photograph, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2009, at the Supreme Court in Washington. Has Justice Thomas politicized the court?

Charles Dharapak / AP / File

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Justice Clarence Thomas, in a speech last weekend to the Federalist Society, accused his critics of “undermining” the legitimacy of the Supreme Court – politicizing it in ways that jeopardize the Court’s credibility in the eyes of the public. He warned:

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You are going to be, unfortunately, the recipients of the fallout from that – that there’s going to be a day when you need those institutions to be credible and to be fully functioning to protect your liberties. That could be either a short or a long time, but you’re younger, and it’s still going to be a necessity to protect the liberties that you enjoy now in this country.

Odd coming from Clarence Thomas — who has done more to politicize the Court than anyone in recent years, with the possible exception of his brother on the bench Antonin Scalia.

Last year, you’ll recall, the votes of Thomas and Scalia swung the Court in the direction of the right-wing group Citizens United – plaintiffs in the case that struck down federal laws limiting corporate campaign contributions.

Before the decision, Thomas and Scalia also participated in a political retreat hosted by Tea Party billionaire financiers Charles and David Koch, driving forces behind loosening restrictions on big money in politics.

Back in 1991 when Thomas was nominated to the Supreme Court, Citizens United spent $100,000 to support his nomination. The in-kind contribution presumably should have been disclosed by Thomas.

At the very least you’d think that, given his connections with Citizen’s United and with the Koch brothers, Thomas would have recused himself from the Citizens United decision in order to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. He would have recused himself, that is, if he were as concerned about the legitimacy of the Supreme Court as he says he.

Thomas has also failed to disclose financial information about his wife’s employment. Virginia Thomas is the founder of Liberty Central, a Tea Party organization now receiving unlimited corporate contributions due to Citizen’s United. Among the things she’s lobbying for are the repeal of what she terms the “unconstitutional” healthcare legislation.

Because of his wife’s direct involvement, seventy-four House Democrats have sent a letter to Justice Thomas asking him to recuse himself from any case questioning the constitutionality of the legislation.”Your spouse is advertising herself as a lobbyist who has ‘experience and connections’ and appeals to clients who want a particular decision,” the legislators wrote. “They want to overturn health-care reform.”