Clarence Thomas: The Supreme Court for Sale

With each new revelation about the extent to which Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has accepted extravagant gifts from assorted billionaires, it has become increasingly clear that Thomas has used his office as a ticket to live the lifestyle of the rich and famous.

The news that Thomas received an all expenses-paid, $500,000 (that’s not a typo) luxury vacation  from a Texas billionaire (who also paid for his godson’s private school education and bought Thomas’s mother’s house in Georgia, fully-renovated it, and has allowed her to live there reportedly rent-free) appears to have been just the tip of the iceberg.

Two weeks ago there was the report that another billionaire bought Thomas a $250,000 motorhome.

Then last week, the on-line investigative journalism publication ProPublica reported that Thomas regularly has received numerous other gifts from assorted other billionaires:

“At least 38 destination vacations, including a previously unreported voyage on a yacht around the Bahamas; 26 private jet flights, plus an additional eight by helicopter; a dozen VIP passes to professional and college sporting events, typically perched in the skybox; two stays at luxury resorts in Florida and Jamaica; and one standing invitation to an uber-exclusive golf club overlooking the Atlantic coast.”

Thomas’s defenders point out that none of his benefactors ever had cases before him, and therefore his acceptance of these gifts did not involve a conflict of interest. That may be true.

But here’s the thing: Even though these billionaires may not themselves directly have had matters before Thomas, he has sided with many decisions that either have upheld their ideological philosophies or that may have benefited their interests indirectly, such as court decisions that have struck down government regulations.

Perhaps the most significant of these was the infamous Citizens United decision (in which Thomas was a deciding vote in the 5-4 majority) in which the Supreme Court struck down the laws that limited political donations by corporations. Thanks to that decision, we have seen the rise of political action committees — known as PACS — by which corporations and billionaires can spend unlimited funds on campaign advertising so long as they are not formally “coordinating” with a candidate or political party. The ruling has ushered in massive increases in political spending from outside groups, dramatically expanding the already outsized political influence of wealthy donors.

Clarence Thomas long has been viewed as the most incompetent and least-qualified judge ever to sit on the Supreme Court. But now, he also is by far the most corrupt.

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