“I prefer the RV parks. I prefer the Walmart parking lots to the beaches and things like that. There’s something normal to me about it.” — Judge Clarence Thomas in a recent interview.
The revelation this past week that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife have been accepting luxury vacations from a Texas billionaire for the past 25 years, including a recent vacation that is estimated to have had a price tag of $500,000 (that’s not a typo — there are no added zeros), is absolutely sickening.
For his part, this billionaire said he never discussed any cases with Thomas and reportedly never had any specific cases pertaining to him in front of the court.
However, among the other guests on these vacation junkets were top executives of major U.S. corporations, so it certainly is conceivable that some of these companies may have had matters that came before the Supreme Court during the 25 years that Thomas has been receiving these extraordinary gifts from the Texas billionaire.
However, the focus on whether any one of these wealthy and influential persons had any specific matters before the Supreme Court misses the point entirely, which is this: Thomas is hobnobbing with, and accepting gifts of immense value from, individuals who have a great deal of general interest in cases that come before the Supreme Court.
For example, the infamous Citizens United case in 2010 (in which the court held that the free speech clause of the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting independent expenditures for political campaigns by corporations, thereby striking down a federal law that had placed a limit on donations by corporations) was brought by billionaires — and who have been influencing U.S. elections ever since with what is known as “dark money” (because its source is unknown). Thomas — surprise! — voted with the majority in a 5-4 decision.
But beyond what constitutes an obvious conflict of interest by Thomas, this is just another example of the hypocrisy that has marked Thomas’s tenure ever since he was appointed to the Supreme Court more than 30 years ago.
Thomas rates as the most unqualified person ever to sit on the court. He never tried a case in a courtroom and had no substantive legal experience prior to being appointed to a seat on the federal Appeals Court. (He was incapable of having been named as a federal district court judge because he would have been clueless as to how to conduct a trial.)
He often speaks and writes of his humble beginnings growing up poor on a farm in Georgia, but he never acknowledges that it was thanks to de facto affirmative action programs at Holy Cross and Yale Law School that gave him the opportunity to rise to the highest court in the land. Nor does he acknowledge that it essentially was affirmative action by President George H.W. Bush that elevated him to his judicial posts, because Thomas by any objective measure was unqualified to be a judge.
But here’s the irony of Thomas’s personal affirmative action story: He is among the leaders of the Supreme Court faction that no doubt soon will be striking down affirmative action programs that have existed for decades in universities across the country.
Thomas’s stance on affirmative action is the height of hypocrisy — he benefited from programs that afforded him opportunities, but he is pulling up the proverbial ladder so that others cannot follow him— that goes way beyond taking expensive vacations in the face of his laughably stated preference for “Walmart parking lots.”