Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is oblivious to ethical expectations. Consequently, his actions have degraded the once-lofty stature of the Supreme Court. He should resign.
Expensive trips on a private plane and yacht, along with luxurious housing, provided by a billionaire Republican Texan, have gone unreported until disclosure by “ProPublica.” Thomas revealed no such largesse to his peers. His behavior is inexcusable.
No longer are we Americans surprised by excessively inappropriate behavior by formerly trustworthy public servants. Perception matters not to Thomas. He convinced himself he committed no wrongdoing. His generous host, Harlan Crow, claimed that no conversation ever occurred that would have touched upon any upcoming Supreme Court decisions.
Really? Just sports talk? Global warming? New movies? Inflation? Public education?
Thomas reported none of the upscale “personal hospitality” (undefined till recently). After all, he did nothing wrong, nothing extraordinary that normal people would eschew if invited by a super-rich person who simply considered Justice Thomas a friend. It mattered not that Thomas sat on the highest court in the land and rendered decisions that would draw attention from wealthy, conservative plutocrats, including corporate executives and the leader of the conservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute.
Fortunately for Thomas, the U.S. Supreme Court has no code of ethics. The federal government does prescribe a code of conduct for the lower courts. Even he wanted to be contrite—an unlikely supposition— Thomas could claim that his friendship with a wealthy real estate developer and willing recipient of several six-figure vacations violated no rules or laws.
As noted earlier, perception is not an admissible offense in Justice Thomas’ world. He’s accountable to no one. He enjoys an untouchable status.
Harlan Crow said he expected nothing from his 25-year relationship with Thomas. Of course, his friend’s role as a reliable voice of right-wing legal thought was simply unintentional. It would be presumptuous on my part to suppose that Crow even had a scintilla of interest in overturning Roe v. Wade or election rules in the South, or gun control. Coincidentally, Thomas has served as an inscrutable Supreme Court justice for 31 years.
College football in the highly competitive Southeastern Conference is far more riveting than Supreme Court decision-making. And there’s no keener observer of SEC, I’m sure, than Justice Thomas. Please excuse my sarcasm. An unspoken prohibition on any conversation about the Supreme Court seems absurd, if not improbable.
Friends are wont to decry the ethical void in our country. Our values are shameful, so the plaint is commonly voiced. Political polarization exacerbates our societal decline, the argument goes. Trust is unrealistic.
When I learn about Clarence Thomas’ acceptance of extravagant gifts, I too believe that highly regarded and respected public figures contribute mightily to our national malaise. My faith in those normally considered trustworthy is unrewarded, if not sadly naive
Cynicism is easily and currently applicable. Hope is difficult to sustain. We bemoan the future. We yearn for times when ethics mattered as a desirable standard, not an unattainable objective.
Justice Thomas might acknowledge his poor judgment. I question my own judgment in expecting an apology. Resignation is out of the question. He claims he got poor advice. His moral compass is out of whack.
He sought minimum compliance and forsook any inkling of being a role model. The perks of friendship bestowed by a billionaire and longtime friend took precedence over judicial leadership.
The Supreme Court no longer represents the highest level of probity. Promiscuous use of position is a new standard.
Thomas deserves commendation on his choice of friends…the wealthier the better, the more favors the better, the more luxurious trips, the more appealing.
Where do we find unquestioned ethical behavior? Not on the Supreme Court.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. After 44 years in Easton, Howard and his wife, Liz, moved in November 2020 to Annapolis, where they live with Toby, a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel who has no regal bearing, just a mellow, enticing disposition.