In addition to the lavish trips previously reported, ProPublica has now revealed that, in 2014, right-wing billionaire Harlan Crow bought a Savannah house and lots part-owned by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, where the jurist’s mother still lived. If the earlier unreported trips were legally dubious, this undeclared purchase much more clearly violated disclosure laws, and lawmakers like Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse are right to call for an investigation.
Some commentators love straining themselves into ridiculous slippery slope scenarios around holding powerful people to basic accountability. What sort of precedent does it set for the Senate to investigate a Supreme Court justice who flagrantly violated the law? If one of the most powerful officials in the United States can be held to scrutiny for decades of ethically questionable behavior that skirted close to and sometimes cleanly crossed into illegality, where does it all end?
This might sound like snark, but it is the argument that some people are making, and it doesn’t hold up. Despite the efforts to conflate these inquiries with political wild goose chases of the kind that GOP House members in particular have refined over the last several years, there’s a simple distinction. There is plenty of evidence to suggest wrongdoing, and an inquiry is about producing the totality of that evidence and determining consequences.
Let’s use a helpful alternate scenario: Let’s say instead of Harlan Crow, the billionaire was George Soros, and instead of Thomas, the justice was Sonia Sotomayor, with all other factors being more or less the same. Soros has spent decades flying Sotomayor to the Maldives in his private jet, and 10 years ago bought a Bronx apartment where her elderly mother had been living, none of which Sotomayor disclosed.
Does that at all change your perspective about whether an inquiry is appropriate? If so, then perhaps your perspective is less about accountability and more about politics. Investigate Thomas, and if he really does have a decadeslong record of malfeasance (going back to his confirmation), perhaps he doesn’t belong on the court.