Huffpost Politics
THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Michael Kieschnick Headshot

How to Bribe a Supreme Court Justice

Posted: Updated:

The Los Angeles Times performed a serious act of journalism by covering the interesting conflict of interest facing Justice Clarence Thomas.

Mr. Thomas is married to Virginia Thomas, who just launched Liberty Central. The lead endorsement comes from two prominent Tea Party activists.

Liberty Central is thoughtfully organized under tax law as a c(4). It can take unlimited corporate contributions, not disclose them, and engage in partisan activities.

Ponder that for just a moment. The wife of a Supreme Court justice has organized a political non-profit linked to Tea Party activists whose activities can be supported to an unlimited extent by corporations whose donations need not be disclosed to the public. Similarly, Mrs. Thomas is under no obligation to disclose her compensation to anybody.

None of this appears to be illegal in part due to the recent Citizens United court ruling by the Supreme Court that freed corporation contributions from certain key restrictions. That radical and controversial decision passed by a 5-4 vote, and surprise, Justice Thomas voted yes.

When the Times asked Mrs. Thomas about this interesting situation, she responded with the traditional right wing charge of the media imposing a double standard on conservatives, pointing out that the elected governor of Pennsylvania, Ed Rendell, is married to a federal judge. She conveniently left out that any political contributions to Mr. Rendell are both limited and fully disclosed under Federal law, and that Judge Rendell scrupulously avoids any political activities.

Justice Thomas has been a reliable right wing, pro-corporate vote since his first day on the court. He can hardly be described as a swing vote whose vote could be bought. But perhaps he could be rewarded for services rendered. Or, if service on the bench becomes tedious, he might be persuaded to extend his tenure if important cases are looming on the horizon.

It may even be that this inventive activity by Mrs. Thomas is nothing new in her family. Her own biography reveals that she has been employed by a series of right wing organizations -- an entity controlled by former Congressman Dick Armey, whose FreedomWorks is much of the money behind the Tea Party gatherings, Hillsdale College (well known as a favorite of hard right students), the Heritage Foundation, and the Chamber of Commerce, the preeminent purveyor of laundered corporate money. None of these organizations need reveal their corporate backers.

Mrs. Thomas and Judge Thomas can easily address the situation, of course. Liberty Central could simply voluntarily disclose all of its significant contributors in a manner much like, say, the Clinton Foundation. And Judge Thomas could simply recuse himself from any case involving a significant donor to his wife's (and thus his own) financial well being. Supreme Court Justices, short of impeachment, answer only to themselves in deciding upon recusal. They alone determine if a conflict exists and how to respond. If they say no conflict exist, they can opine away.

If Judge Thomas wished to be more supportive of his wife's endeavors, he could simply resign from the bench. It would be fascinating to see what level of support Liberty Central would then enjoy. One suspects little.

The New York Times recently revealed that a mere $31,000 in political contributions by a pay day lending mogul and his family and associates seemed to have purchased an exemption from Federal regulation.

No doubt Mrs. Thomas would never stoop so low.