It’s Good to Be Clarence Thomas
The questionable ethics of living a lavish lifestyle based on high office.
At ProPublica, Joshua Kaplan, Justin Elliott and Alex Mierjeski report on “Clarence Thomas and the Billionaire.”
IN LATE JUNE 2019, right after the U.S. Supreme Court released its final opinion of the term, Justice Clarence Thomas boarded a large private jet headed to Indonesia. He and his wife were going on vacation: nine days of island-hopping in a volcanic archipelago on a superyacht staffed by a coterie of attendants and a private chef.
If Thomas had chartered the plane and the 162-foot yacht himself, the total cost of the trip could have exceeded $500,000. Fortunately for him, that wasn’t necessary: He was on vacation with real estate magnate and Republican megadonor Harlan Crow, who owned the jet — and the yacht, too.
For more than two decades, Thomas has accepted luxury trips virtually every year from the Dallas businessman without disclosing them, documents and interviews show. A public servant who has a salary of $285,000, he has vacationed on Crow’s superyacht around the globe. He flies on Crow’s Bombardier Global 5000 jet. He has gone with Crow to the Bohemian Grove, the exclusive California all-male retreat, and to Crow’s sprawling ranch in East Texas. And Thomas typically spends about a week every summer at Crow’s private resort in the Adirondacks.
The extent and frequency of Crow’s apparent gifts to Thomas have no known precedent in the modern history of the U.S. Supreme Court.
These trips appeared nowhere on Thomas’ financial disclosures. His failure to report the flights appears to violate a law passed after Watergate that requires justices, judges, members of Congress and federal officials to disclose most gifts, two ethics law experts said. He also should have disclosed his trips on the yacht, these experts said.
Thomas did not respond to a detailed list of questions.
In a statement, Crow acknowledged that he’d extended “hospitality” to the Thomases “over the years,” but said that Thomas never asked for any of it and it was “no different from the hospitality we have extended to our many other dear friends.”
Through his largesse, Crow has gained a unique form of access, spending days in private with one of the most powerful people in the country. By accepting the trips, Thomas has broken long-standing norms for judges’ conduct, ethics experts and four current or retired federal judges said.
“It’s incomprehensible to me that someone would do this,” said Nancy Gertner, a retired federal judge appointed by President Bill Clinton. When she was on the bench, Gertner said, she was so cautious about appearances that she wouldn’t mention her title when making dinner reservations: “It was a question of not wanting to use the office for anything other than what it was intended.”
Virginia Canter, a former government ethics lawyer who served in administrations of both parties, said Thomas “seems to have completely disregarded his higher ethical obligations.”
“When a justice’s lifestyle is being subsidized by the rich and famous, it absolutely corrodes public trust,” said Canter, now at the watchdog group CREW. “Quite frankly, it makes my heart sink.”
Slate legal analysts Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern declare, “Clarence Thomas Broke the Law and It Isn’t Even Close.”
ProPublica’s scrupulously reported new piece on Justice Clarence Thomas’ decadeslong luxury travel on the dime of a single GOP megadonor will probably not shock you at all. Sure, the dollar amounts spent are astronomical, and of course the justice failed to report any of it, and of course the megadonor insists that he and Thomas are dear old friends, so of course the superyacht and the flights on the Bombardier Global 5000 jet and the resorts are all perfectly benign. So while the details are shocking, the pattern here is hardly a new one. This is a longstanding ethics loophole that has been exploited by parties with political interests in cases before the court to curry favor in exchange for astonishing junkets and perks. It is allowed to happen.
We will doubtless spend a few news cycles expressing outrage that Harlan Crow has spent millions of dollars lavishing the Thomases with lux vacations and high-end travel and barely pretended to separate business and pleasure, giving half a million dollars to a Tea Party group founded by Ginni Thomas in 2011 (which funded her own $120,000 salary). But because the justices are left to police themselves and opt not to do so, we will turn to other matters in due time. Before the outrage dries up, however, it is worth zeroing in on two aspects of the ProPublica report that do have lasting legal implications. First, the same people who benefited from the lax status quo continue to fight against any meaningful reforms that might curb the justices’ gravy train. Second, the rules governing Thomas’ conduct over these years, while terribly insufficient, actually did require him to disclose at least some of these extravagant gifts. The fact that he ignored the rules anyway illustrates just how difficult it will be to force the justices to obey the law: Without the strong threat of enforcement, a putative public servant like Thomas will thumb his nose at the law.
If there is a single image that captures this seedy state of affairs, it is a painting of Thomas hanging out with Leonard Leo (Federalist Society co-chair and judicial power broker) and Mark Paoletta (who has served as chief counsel to former Vice President Mike Pence and general counsel of Donald Trump’s Office of Management and Budget). Both are political operatives, though Crow assures us that they would never dare talk about Thomas’ work. This image should be enough to shock anyone into taking action against the spigot of dark money that flows directly from billionaire donors into the court, its justices, and their spouses’ pockets. Continuing to live as though there is nothing to be done about any of this is a choice. We make it every day.
In addition to working in the Trump-Pence administration, Paoletta serves as the Thomases’ longtime fixer, attack dog, and booster. He represented Ginni Thomas when she spoke to the Jan 6. committee about her support for overturning the 2020 election. He also edited a biography of Clarence Thomas based on an almost comically obsequious documentary (in which he was also involved). So it should not be a surprise that Paoletta has also testified against any ethics reform measures for the Supreme Court, dismissing the reform movement as part of “the coordinated campaign by some Democrats and their allies in the corporate media to smear conservative Justices with the goal of delegitimizing the court.”
The lavish vacations are getting the most attention but they tend to bother me less than a lot of the other details here. Crow is a wealthy man and owns very nice things. I’m not sure why riding on someone’s yacht is worse than riding on someone’s bass boat or flying in their private jet is worse than riding shotgun in their pickup truck. And it’s silly to calculate the cost of a private chartering of the yacht and the plane; presumably, the Thomases would simply have flown commercial first class if left to their own devices.
Is it inherently unethical for Thomas to be friends with rich people? To vacation with them? I don’t see it.
Now, if there’s a requirement for Federal judges to disclose these things as “gifts,” then he should certainly have done so. And it seems that he was in fact required to do so.
The best argument in his defense is that the old definition of “personal hospitality” did not require him to disclose transportation, including private flights. This reading works only by torturing the English language beyond all recognition. The old rule, like the statute it derives from, defined the term as hospitality that is “extended” either “at” a personal residence or “on” their “property or facilities.” A person dead-set on defending Thomas might be able to squeeze these yacht trips into this definition, arguing that, by hosting Thomas on his boat for food, drink, and sightseeing, Crow “extended” hospitality “on” his own property. But lending out the private jet for Thomas’ personal use? Come on. There’s no plausible way to shoehorn these trips into the old rule—which quotes the statute verbatim—even under the most expansive interpretation imaginable. Letting somebody use your private jet to travel around the country is not “extend[ing]” hospitality “on” your property. It is lending out your property to someone else so they can avoid paying for a commercial flight. Thomas broke the law, a law which contains serious civil penalties, though the bogus technicality on which he relies, in addition to his political clout, will be more than enough to ensure that he never faces any actual legal consequences.
If you need further evidence, there’s another, equally clear indication about the nature of the hospitality exception to the disclosure requirement in a neighboring provision of the statute. This section explains which gifts, exactly, a justice must include in their annual report. It reiterates the exception for “personal hospitality,” but provides an even clearer definition of the types of hospitality at issue: “any food, lodging, or entertainment received as personal hospitality of an individual need not be reported.” (Emphasis added.) This language confirms the narrow scope of the hospitality exception: It covers housing, meals, and activities provided during a visit. It does not cover transportation. And even if you read an implied inclusion of transportation to reach the “lodging”—which is implausible, but whatever—that does not cover Crow lending Thomas his jet to fly around for the justice’s personal adventures.
Would Crow be paling around with Clarence Thomas were he not a Supreme Court Justice? It’s impossible to say for sure, of course, but one doubts it. Thomas is therefore, indirectly at least, cashing in on his public service in a huge way that would be impermissible for most government employees.
Now, it’s possible that Crow is doing this because being seen paling around with a Supreme Court Justice increases his social stature rather than because he hopes to get favorable rulings before the high court. Indeed, one would think Thomas would have to recuse himself in matters involving Crow. Alas, we have reason to be skeptical on that score.
The Ginny Thomas angle continues to be the most problematic for me. She’s something of a moron but has managed to be a major player in the conservative lobbying space because of who she’s married to. That’s even more problematic given that she’s not simply an ideologue but an active insurrectionist. Her husband is under oath to support and defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic and, morally if not legally, she’s one of them.
That Crow is effectively paying her salary is problematic.
Because one is a yacht and one is a bass boat, one is a private jet and one is a pickup truck…
Except they didn’t! They didn’t have to spend the (relatively) small sum of a few thousand (!) dollars each, because they received a free luxury ride that would have normally cost ~$10,000 an hour. It’s not silly at all to calculate this cost, it’s incredibly germane to understanding just how corrupt the Thomases are.
I have some rich friends. I vacation with them. Outside of them maybe picking up a bar tab or a (normally priced) dinner, I pay my own way; and I pick up their bar tabs/dinner later. I certainly don’t take hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of free travel and accommodations from them, as that would put me in an untenable relationship with them, one in which we were no longer seeing each other as equal human beings but rather one as a client to the other. And, I’m not one of the most powerful people in the world, often tasked with adjudicating weighty issues that could impact my wealthy friend.
It’s not unethical for the Thomases and the Crows to be friends. It’s unethical to behave the way they are behaving.
Doesn’t this directly answer why one should be concerned about the value and acceptance of free luxury yacht cruises? I get that the Ginni Thomas angle is more concerning than the rampant bribery, but the rampant bribery is still nonetheless concerning.
Actually, if they are likely your friends because you are a SCOTUS Justice, it might well be (and especially if they are helping fund your wife’s political activities).
Along the lines of things I have said in the past about the employment of SCOTUS spouses: if you are going to get a lifetime job as with as much power as Justices have, then it is not unreasonable for certain behavior to be off the table.
From a New Yorker article on superyachts:
As yachts have grown more capacious, and the limits on passengers have not, more and more space on board has been devoted to staff and to novelties. The latest fashions include imax theatres, hospital equipment that tests for dozens of pathogens, and ski rooms where guests can suit up for a helicopter trip to a mountaintop. The longtime owner, who had returned the previous day from his yacht, told me, “No one today—except for assholes and ridiculous people—lives on land in what you would call a deep and broad luxe life. Yes, people have nice houses and all of that, but it’s unlikely that the ratio of staff to them is what it is on a boat.” After a moment, he added, “Boats are the last place that I think you can get away with it.”
Even among the truly rich, there is a gap between the haves and the have-yachts. One boating guest told me about a conversation with a famous friend who keeps one of the world’s largest yachts. “He said, ‘The boat is the last vestige of what real wealth can do.’ What he meant is, You have a chef, and I have a chef. You have a driver, and I have a driver. You can fly privately, and I fly privately. So, the one place where I can make clear to the world that I am in a different fucking category than you is the boat.”
Comparing a superyacht to traveling normally is nuts. It’s called corruption and Thomas is the embodiment of it.
There is a hackneyed trope that the anyone who exists in a permanent state of moral outrage is most likely covering up horrendous immorality. If Michael and the rest of our writers went to that well I would think less of them. But it is so often true!
“Hi, I am your friend. It’s now ok for me to give you stuff.” For anyone other than a judge is this believable? No. Believable that they never discussed issues that would come up in court? No.
If I were accepting very expensive trips and flights from a drug company or one our vendors and did not report it I would be fired. That’s not conjecture as we did fire someone for taking money and not reporting it. You at least need to know so you can be aware of possible influence.
Excellent piece James.
The fact is, current reporting notwithstanding, Justice Thomas has been on the edge with respect to ethics for many many years.
A few years ago it was widely reported that for many years Justice Thomas had, on annually required federal financial and conflict of interst forms, neglected to report that his wife Ginni Thomas was paid staff at the Heritage Foundation – periodically a party to cases that appear before the Court.
Historical precedent? Well, in 1969 Justice Abe Fortas was forced to resign under threat of impeachment. Fortas had many ‘monetized’ relationships, one being acceptance of a $15,000 in fees for university seminars, another being a private retainer for legal advice to New York financier Louis Wolfson.
It seems to me that Thomas is at the edge right now. He’s not going to be impeached and removed from the Court because of political numbers, and because the country as a whole believes that ethics is a partisan ‘both sides do it’ matter, the old ethical norms are ignored.
Once again we see that some powerful people believe they have no ethical obligations.
Really? The issue is scarcity. There are way more bass boats than yachts for a reason (money). There are way more pickup trucks than private jets for a reason (money). It’s not silly to calculate those amounts for travel, that’s what public officials ARE REQUIRED TO DO WHEN THEY ACCEPT GIFTS. Why? Because they are *required* to report these as gifts. The only item on this list that to my understanding doesn’t apply is the visit to Crow’s personal residence.
Which is the point here. A wealthy person is lavishing gifts on a member of the judiciary. It’s insane or naive–I’m not sure which or maybe both–to think this stuff doesn’t matter.
The people behind the Federalist Society aren’t going to invest millions grooming and placing people on the Court and just trust to luck they won’t go all Earl Warren on them. I’ve wondered how they they arrange handlers for SCOTUS justices. Scalia’s death at a resort, Alito’s leaky dinner hosts, and now this business with the Thomases offer a glimpse at how they keep a leash on them.
@OzarkHillbilly: paraphrasing Leona Helmsley, “Morals are for the little people.”
Let’s not play stupid. No ethical person In Thomas’s position would have accepted such gifts regardless of what the law says.
This man is unfit to hold even the slightest shred of power.
It’s been noted that Crow’s interest in the court isn’t an abstract general interest. He is in the leadership of a number of groups that are regularly appearing before the court. We need to stop calling these “gifts” and call them what they actually are: bribes
Well, not to worry. Thomas says that “he was advised” (by zombies?) that it was not necessary to report any “personal hospitality.”
It’s all above board, nothing to worry our pretty little heads over./s
Is there something Thomas can be prosecuted for?
I keep wondering if this is Thomas’s revenge for the 1991 hearing.
To be honest, this is exactly the behavior the original authors of the Constitution intended, as the Federalist Society interprets correctly with their unquestionable scholarship via Ouija board sessions with the ghosts of the 1787 Constitutional conventioneers. Scalia himself was no slouch in feeding from the trough of moneybag patrons either.
People are calling this “unprecedented”. That’s likely only because the others have been more circumspect.
“I’m not sure why riding on someone’s yacht is worse than riding on someone’s bass boat or flying in their private jet is worse than riding shotgun in their pickup truck.”
Run that line past your university’s ethics department. Let us know their response. And be prepared for a number of ethics training sessions from the university afterwards.
@CSK: Oh, absolutely. He’s said as much, hasn’t he? I vaguely recall some statement that was along the lines of this.
My younger brother worked for Trammel Crow, Harlan’s father, and has been on said boat.
He said it had 14 state rooms, a crane for moving the Chris Craft tender about, and mortar launches to protect against piracy on the open seas.
Yes – the Chris Craft tender itself is bigger than a bass boat.
I’m willing to bet Scalia told Thomas he didn’t have to report it.
“I’m not sure why riding on someone’s yacht is worse than riding on someone’s bass boat or flying in their private jet is worse than riding shotgun in their pickup truck.”
I thought you were being sarcastic and this was part of the set up for the slam.
But then there is the whole and have them pick up the tab thing.
I have rich friends. Occasionally, they are very generous, mostly in the form of freebie tickets to expensive events (something that is already within my means). I’m thinking that if I had a job that gave me power over every single person in the country, saying no to even these relatively modest gifts would be a given.
Is this just some sort of odd blind spot you have? Or are you a “reasonable conservative” who provides cover for things like this obvious example of massive corruption?
@Jen: Truth. When I was a finance manager, a bank rep giving me a branded Pilot rollerball pen or three like what you can buy in bulk at OfficeMax for about 30 bux a box was ok; but say they gave me a 750-1000 dollar Montblanc le Grande or Visconti Davina Oversize, and I accepted, I would lose my sales licence so quickly my chair wouldn’t have stopped spinning before I was out of the dealership. Glad James is ok(ish) with having an supreme court justices held to a lower standard than a car salesman. And we are the scum of the earth, amirite?
If, say, Joe Manchin offered for me to spend the weekend with him on his houseboat, which many critics describe as a “yacht,” I don’t think there would be any requirement to even mention it to the university. On the other hand, I’d feel the need to disclose it to OTB readers when I commented on Manchin in the future.
@anjin-san: I think Thomas has all manner of ethical issues and have commented on that many times in the past. As noted in the OP, I think the Ginny thing is the most disturbing. I don’t find going on vacation at someone’s resort and riding with them on their yacht and private plane per se unethical. My concern is what business said individual might have before the Court and whether Thomas would recuse himself.
@Kathy: supposedly there are tax implications for unreported income, but, good luck.
@James Joyner: well. He has had business before the courts 8 times it seems and Thomas never refused himself and voted his way all 8 times, so…
Were Harlan Crowe and Clarence Thomas friends before he was appointed to the Supreme Court? Did CT vacation with HC back then? I’m thinking the answer is “no”.
Well, that kind of answers the question whether it’s appropriate for CT to enjoy all these luxuries now, doesn’t it, James?
Although I can’t speak for James, is, in fact, pretty “conservative” to try and find all kinds of excuses for the powerful.
For conservatives, it’s not so much what you do, it’s who you are.
The idea that you dont need to report gifts valuing in the many thousands of dollars does not pass the smell test.
@Not the IT Dept.:
Clarence Thomas speaks:
He doesn’t say exactly how long they’ve known each other. But, operating under the strongly rational assumption that a Supreme Court Justice is extremely careful with words, he has known Crow more than 25 years, but less than 30. He has been a Supreme Court Justice for 32 years. If he had known Crow before he was a SCOTUS Justice, he absolutely would have said so.
I would also be quite curious to see the Thomas’ investments over the years of Crowe’s friendship and see if and how much they may have benefited investing in securities that Crowe substantially owns, controls, or influences. Travel gifts may not be the whole picture.
I have been pondering the tax angle on this since yesterday. I think prosecuting Thomas for tax evasion would very likely be a real stretch. And that is because of how you might value these “gifts” under tax law, in which I am certainly no expert.
Nonetheless, I think the logic James uses in the OP, which doesn’t have much ethical weight with me, does have some legal weight. The value of that private jet is the dollar value of the airline ticket they didn’t have to pay, and the price of the stay on the yacht is roughly the price of a stay in a comparable hotel in a comparable location. This is likely a very defensible position, as far as tax law goes, and probably puts the trips well within the annual “gift limit” on taxes.
Non reporting is clearly a breach, and one that won’t have consequences until there is a majority in the House and a 2/3rds majority in the Senate that think it should have consequences. I’m not sure who else has jurisdiction to prosecute a Justice for violations of this law.
We will find no relief from the law here, I think. This has to turn into a political albatross, something we paint every Republican candidate with. The True Pro Life crowd will ignore it, because Thomas delivered for them, and may do so on LGBTQ+ issues as well. And God’s Warriors are anointed, don’t you know, and not subject to ordinary rules.
I thought at the time, and I’ve had no reason to revise my opinion, that Clarence Thomas was the worst judicial pick of my lifetime. Bret Kavanaugh might give him a run for his money, but this is a big leg up for Thomas in this contest.
This is why
Congresspeople and federal court justicesThe Founders decided NOT to use the rules that govern normal people. They understood quite thoroughly that they were setting rules of conduct for a new sort of royalty. They had no more idea that there would be Clarence and Ginny Thomases in the future that Queen Elizabeth the First understood that future lords would be selling their estates and the titles that go with them to rich commoners in the future.
@OzarkHillbilly: True. But only because they have no ethical obligations to anyone and even if they did, breaches of ethics and breaches of statuary law are completely different things. They don’t care about being called unethical and won’t get prosecuted for breaches that veer into the criminal because “we the people” have impeachment and a Congress to handle those breaches. “We”‘re completely
@Stormy Dragon: “We need to stop calling these “gifts” and call them what they actually are: bribes.” While I agree in principle, the point is moot. It still takes 66 Senators to convict a corrupt judge and judges will still be appointed by Congress–which doesn’t care one iota about whether the judges they appoint are corrupt, only whether they’ll stay bought.
@Jay L Gischer:
Gift taxes are on the donor, not the recipient anyways, so you could only prosecute Harlan Crow anyways (and even that assumes he’s not paying taxes on these gifts already anyways).
@steve: Nah! I knew better than that. A conservative may well be outraged but will still circle the wagons.
@Just nutha ignint cracker:
It may not stop the corruption, but we can stop it from being normalized by using euphemisms to talk around it in public. If the Republicans want a judge openly taking bribes on the court, we can’t stop them, but that judge should be referred to as the bribe taking judge every time his name is mentioned.
@Just nutha ignint cracker: yup. I came for the equivocation and was not disappointed.
Fine, but that’s not going to happen for the same reason that there won’t be 66 outraged conviction-minded Senators. It’s not in the interest of the Fourth Estate to harp on excesses that they can gain benefit from and where the harping won’t change anything anyway. This is yet another “Want better government? Start with better voters and candidates” issue.
@Stormy Dragon: Fair point. I just looked it up. You are correct. It seems weird though.
If this were a one-off thing, I would agree. But as an annual thing over a 20 year period? Then there is the uber-rich scale of these trips. Thomas and his wife are living light years beyond their means. I don’t know about you, but if I had a patron that so elevated my lifestyle, I would figure I owed him.
Throw in a Crow funded documentary that portrays Thomas as a simple guy who is happiest when shopping at Wal-Mart. His buddy pays for his PR too.
What would it take for you to simply say “Thomas is corrupt, he needs to resign immediately”?
Life is easier when you have no shame and are protected from all consequences.
Maybe they can get him on tax fraud. These gifts have value, after all. That would be nice.
@anjin-san: To have been nominated by Clinton instead of Bush.
You may have just won the internet for the day…
Rich guys like Crow have lawyers all around them advising them on just what they can get away with. The really bad ones also have a whole system of evading detection of their illegal acts as well, but there’s nothing here to suggest that Crow does that. Honestly, why would he need to? The ones that rich do it I think more because it makes them feel good to do whatever they want and get one over on governments.
This is why this sort of thing must be handled in the political sphere. We aren’t ever going to stop them completely – in the whole history of humankind how many times has that happened? – but we can definitely roll them back. It has happened before. It will probably require a few scandals.
Our law firm like many others, provides refreshments like coffee, soft drinks and water to clients and visitors. We also in full day meetings and depositions, usually provide lunch as a convivence to all parties. A few years ago we were having depositions in our office and the Government was being represented by attorneys from the SEC. When it came time for lunch the Government attorneys insisted on reimbursing us for the cost and getting a receipt. They said however that their ethics counsel said they could take the coffee. Government attorneys make about a third of what an associate Justice makes.
Corruption doesn’t quiiiiite fit this, one would have to consider Thomas a swing vote for it to.
Looks more like a rich guy who would like to look cool by hob-nobbing with a Supreme, in combination with Clarence naively disgracing himself and his institution so he and Ginny could party. It has gone on so long only because the rich guy and the Thomases have developed a genuine friendship, most likely.
Supremes don’t have meaningful say in day-to-day government operations and there are lots of bureaucrats that do. Those would be the guy’s targets if he’s seeking favors related to business. That needs to be checked out, btw. He seems to have ideological views which Clarence would support, but Clarence has never been a swing vote on those matters so why pay him?
Unseemly as hell, but it’s unlikely all the things being said about it are going to pan out as true.
@a country lawyer:..They said however that their ethics counsel said they could take the coffee.
Depending on the circumstances the mud I get at McDonald’s can be a travel expense when I am working. I always get the receipt even though it’s 99¢.
@dazedandconfused: Sweet Jesus, between this; the Uvalde cops; and the kidnapping of Ukrainian children, is there any trash actions you won’t try to defend? Is it a reflex or something?
@a country lawyer: A number of years ago, I was working for a company that provided a software service. We were working with an office of a government agency, and after several meetings, they had a few more questions and the Boston office sent someone to Manchester NH to meet with me. We had lunch, we both ordered the daily special (soup and a grilled cheese) and when I offered to pick up the tab he said no, that he would, citing gifts rules. He picked up the check and looked extremely puzzled. I asked what was wrong, and he said I am not sure this bill is right. I looked at it and said, yup, we both had the daily special–$4.99. His response was that the total didn’t hit the reporting threshold of $20.00. I said “welcome to New Hampshire.”
@Jen:..A number of years ago…daily special–$4.99…
Give us a number. I am guessing more than 20…
@Mister Bluster: Nope. 2018. 🙂
I am flummoxed! Did the soup include crackers or was that extra?
My dad was an attorney. Back in the 60s, there would be cases of Johnny Walker Black staked up in his office kitchen every year around Christmas. He referred to them as stocking stuffers. In December, everyone he interacted with in his work life got a bottle. Court clerks, other attorneys, bankers, etc.
Back in the 90s, I visited his office around Christmas time, and I commented on the absence of the perennial cases of scotch. “I don’t do that anymore,” he said, “you can get your ass in a sling these days just for accepting a bottle of scotch.”
If a loan officer can’t accept a bottle of scotch, I think a supreme court justice should not accept hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of luxury travel. Unless, of course, he thinks he is one of the aristocrats and rules are for the peons. And you have people providing cover for you when you are found out.
I’m curious, have you heard of Citizens United?
Yes. I thought it rather sad at the time, and suggested suits for our congress critters like those stock car drivers wear. All the logos of their sponsors in plain view so everyone can see who’s talking.
I cant accept a pen from a drug rep, let alone private yacht and jet trips.
@dazedandconfused: And? Seriously, even going back to the initial invasion of Ukraine you have been trying to somehow defend the indefensible. I honestly couldn’t believe JohnSF even tried to entertain your nonsense about the Ukrainian kids. Oh, and the NASCAR suit thing isn’t original; it was a staple of 1 good and a bunch of hack comics in the ’90’s. Go cry in the corner about it.
@dazedandconfused: BTW, I had made my argument against your inane prattle before you even showed up in a post regarding Thomas’s refusal to recuse in 8 cases and the way he ruled. It really wasn’t an ad hominem…more a straight insult.
Insults are ad-hominem, you ninny.
You think it’s defending the indefensible but I haven’t defended any of those things. What’s pissing you off is I am not strictly adhering to your desired narratives.
I said the general assumption the cops at Uvalde cowered out of fear was unlikely and a gross lack of leadership, and incompetent leadership when it did emerge, were more likely. The investigation bore me out on that. Yet you insist on spitting insults out of ignorance. I don’t know how you managed to screw calling them incompetent into “defending” but, as the saying goes…takes all kinds.
I have no idea what I might have said about Ukraine that leads you to the conclusion I was defending Russian invasion. Perhaps you are mixing me up with someone else on that, or are just making stuff up because you have decided to slur me. Blind hatred can do that to people.
I said Clarence has disgraced himself and the institution so he and Ginny could party, and somehow you’ve decided that I am defending him. You have issues, dude. Major issues.
@Mister Bluster: It’s still corruption even if you aren’t the swing vote. Indeed, you can “imagine” an oil company buying a half dozen senators in a split house – none is the swing vote, but all are corrupt.
And actually, SCOTUS didn’t just decide cases, it decides which cases it will hear. Influence in that decision is also corruption.
Justices also don’t simply decide cases, they write opinions that form the basis of future decisions. “Pay” to sneak a little language in now, save some effort later.
As a bonus, CT was, at one point, in the 4-way conservative block. Ensuring that block understood how to vote in a variety of cases would have been very much relevant. It is less so today thanks to the corruption of the Democratic process that has jammed in the 6-3 position.
@a country lawyer: Right. A few years ago, I was part of a delegation that visited Washington and paid calls on our Congressional delegation and some Executive Branch contacts. At lunch on our last day, we were joined by two junior staffers from Lindsey Graham’s office. When we tried to pick up their lunch tab, they declined; so we passed the hat and found that we had enough to pay their bill without the check ever reaching them. That was then; this is now.
James: “I’m not sure why riding on someone’s yacht is worse than riding on someone’s bass boat or flying in their private jet is worse than riding shotgun in their pickup truck. And it’s silly to calculate the cost of a private chartering of the yacht and the plane; presumably, the Thomases would simply have flown commercial first class if left to their own devices.”
It is, and for reasons comprehendible even by Thomas’ ordinary people.
Traveling by airline and by private jet are vastly different.
For all of those who don’t understand what in the world one could get with the favor of a SCOTUS Justice, just imagine how many (hundreds of?) millions of dollars it would be worth, having your case heard now, vs years from now.
Thank you for the information. I am not sure what it has to do my tax filings. To be clear I do not approve of Justice Thomas’s behavior in this matter.
@Stormy Dragon: “We need to stop calling these “gifts” and call them what they actually are: bribes”
Perhaps this is one reason the Supreme Court has been on a decade-long mission to redefine bribery so that unless someone is caught with a bag of money — presumably with the dollar sign on the side — saying “okay, I’m taking this money and in exchange I’m going to perform this task,” it’s not bribery, it’s not illegal, and it’s not corruption.
@dazedandconfused: let’s see…in the begining, you were preaching kumbaya hippie bullshit about how the territories should just be given up for peace, so not exactly defending, but being ok with them getting their desired outcome, then later having a long dialogue about how the kidnapped children were taken as a humanitarian thing to get them away from the war zone; ignoring, or maybe ignorant, of the fact that it was part of an ethnic cleansing plan that had been leaked in the early days of the invasion; as well as a historical tactic done by ethnic cleansers throughout history. And your comment about Thomas also included that he couldn’t have been bought since he would have ruled that way to begin with, ignoring the fact he didn’t recuse himself like he should have in the first place. And as to the Uvalde cops…300+ to one, with comments from them at the time that they feared his weapon doesn’t change a buck passing “investigation” and that, “just following orders” didn’t excuse death camp guards, so it also doesn’t excuse police sitting outside listening to kids die. Whatever…I just have learned that if I need a shitty, equivocating take, I just have to look for your username. Oh…and an ad hominem is used in an argument. I wasn’t making an argument. There is the difference. I don’t have a hate for those that think different. I don’t hate James for instance, if I did I wouldn’t have been reading this blog since 2007, but I will occasionally call him out for his knee jerk defense of conservatives. In fact I think he would be a good dude to hang out with. I don’t hate Stormy even though I came out a bit aggressive on him a few days ago. Same with some others on here; and contrary to your belief, I don’t hate you; I nothing you.
I just can’t stay away from this. You don’t see the difference? Have you ever been on a private jet? Well, neither have I. But I do occasionally fly from the Bay Area to Burbank on small commuter jets out of a regional airport here. Let me tell you, it is a whole different ballgame from flying commercially out of Oakland Airport or SFO.
Free parking. A two minute walk to the office. Drop off your luggage and pick up a boarding pass. Have a cup of coffee, check your emails. Walk out onto the tarmac and board. No TSA. No crowds. No stress. No rushing. Nothing inconvenient or unpleasant at all.
Take off. Land. Walk into the hanger & have another cup of coffee and make a quick call in the lounge. Your luggage is waiting for you. Your rental car is right outside, here are your keys, have a nice day.
It is freaking awesome (especially compared to the horror show that is 21st-century air travel). And I imagine a private jet owned by a billionaire is a whole other order of magnitude sweet.
Yeah, that’s more or less the same thing as catching a ride down I-5 with one of your buddies.
@Mister Bluster: Looks like I tagged the wrong comment in reply-to through this here pocket calculator……..intended for dazedandconfused, which perhaps I was.
@Thomm: You’ve grossly miscast my statements and opinions. Have a nice life.
Corruption depends on establishing intent. I view serious, even egregious impropriety as more likely myself for the reasons I have already given and a few more. This is not to suggest that I think it a small matter, as some would insist I must, quite the opposite.
For an office of lifetime appointment wherein the only firing can only be done by a 2/3rds majority of both Houses, the appearance of impropriety IS impropriety. If the SC will not police itself they risk losing that special status. Just a matter of time if this sort of behavior becomes common in the group. Clarence has disgraced himself and the institution, an institution that depends on a considerable amount of grace.
@dazedandconfused: “Corruption doesn’t quiiiiite fit this, one would have to consider Thomas a swing vote for it to.”
‘look, I sympathize with you and your case. But there are thousands of cases which we could hear every year, and we hear only a few percent. But eventually, five years from now, or ten, we will hear your case, and make a decision saving you $100 million per year. I’m sure that waiting a few hundred million dollars won’t bother you.’
@ptfe: “Justices also don’t simply decide cases, they write opinions that form the basis of future decisions. “Pay” to sneak a little language in now, save some effort later.”
IIRC, the ‘corporations are people’ doctrine was the result of a SCOTUS clerk adding something to a decision. That something has probably been worth $1 trillion to corporations over the time since.