Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Clarence Thomas Speaks

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is famous for not speaking at all during Court hearings. But apparently he did some talking that is getting some attention.

Discrepancies in reports about an appearance by Justice Clarence Thomas at a political retreat for wealthy conservatives three years ago have prompted new questions to the Supreme Court from a group that advocates changing campaign finance laws.

When questions were first raised about the retreat last month, a court spokeswoman said Justice Thomas had made a “brief drop-by” at the event in Palm Springs, Calif., in January 2008 and had given a talk.

In his financial disclosure report for that year, however, Justice Thomas reported that the Federalist Society, a prominent conservative legal group, had reimbursed him an undisclosed amount for four days of “transportation, meals and accommodations” over the weekend of the retreat. The event is organized by Charles and David Koch, brothers who have used millions of dollars from the energy conglomerate they run in Wichita, Kan., to finance conservative causes.

Arn Pearson, a vice president at the advocacy group Common Cause, said the two statements appeared at odds. His group sent a letter to the Supreme Court on Monday asking for “further clarification” as to whether the justice spent four days at the retreat for the entire event or was there only briefly.

“I don’t think the explanation they’ve given is credible,” Mr. Pearson said in an interview. He said that if Justice Thomas’s visit was a “four-day, all-expenses paid trip in sunny Palm Springs,” it should have been reported as a gift under federal law.

The Supreme Court had no comment on the issue Monday. Nor did officials at the Federalist Society or at Koch Industries.

This, on top of his wife’s setting up a lobbying firm for conservative causes, brings more attention to the outside activities of Mr. Thomas. Of course, he and his wife can speak to whomever they wish and conduct business in accordance with the law, but judges and certainly those of the Supreme Court need to be held to a higher standard of impartiality. And if Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s husband had worked for Common Cause, you’d still be hearing about it from the GOP even after his death.