Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Scalia, Thomas, recusals and the best judiciary money can buy

It's hard not to be cynical about the alleged conflicts of interest surrounding Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, based on their relationships with conservative groups and, in Thomas's case, his wife's lobbying activities. What do you expect? Corporations buy politicians; "bought" politicians appoint and approve federal judges. If the corporate elite has "the best government their money can buy," the judiciary is certainly well represented in the toybox.

Nevertheless, it's good to see that this story is sticking, and even moving into the mainstream media and influencing some legislative action. Some members of Congress, for instance, are asking Thomas to recuse himself from any SCOTUS consideration of health care reform, based on his wife's lobbying activities ($700,000 of which went unreported on disclosure forms). You can read a letter to Thomas from Reps. Anthony Weiner, Pete Stark, Frank Pallone Jr. and Christopher Murphy here; some seventy other representatives have also supported the effort.

Meanwhile two groups in particular have questioned Thomas's ties to Citizens United and to an ultraconservative retreat hosted by the Koch brothers. filed a bar complaint today alleging Thomas's bias and actual conflict of interest for his failure to disqualify himself from the Citizens United case after Citizens United Foundation supported his nomination and spent at least $100,000 on commercials attacking some senators opposed to it. This is the second bar complaint the group has filed. Video here.

Meanwhile Common Cause has asked for clarification on Thomas's 2008 speaking engagement at a conservative retreat organized by the Koch brothers, and has petitioned the Justice Department to investigate. The New York Times reports that Justice Thomas "reimbursed him an undisclosed amount for four days of 'transportation, meals and accommodations' over the weekend of the retreat," although he earlier described it as a "brief drop-by." Rachel Maddow has also picked up the story, talking to Common Cause president Bob Edgar.

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