In 2010 the public advocacy group Common Cause linked Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia to the billionaire Koch brothers. At issue was their presence at private parties hosted by the brothers just before the infamous Citizens United decision. More questions have now arisen about Justice’s Thomas’ objectivity and ethics and whether he should recuse himself from any review of the Affordable Care Act. Thomas’ wife Virgina’s involvement with the conservative groups, the Federalist Foundation and Liberty Central, her very vocal opposition to the ACA and his failure to disclose her income have raised a “specter off bias”:
The Obama administration filing a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is news, but a side issue might draw more attention: whether Justice Clarence Thomas should recuse himself.
Thomas’ wife, Virginia, was employed for several years by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. Heritage has long opposed the health-care law. Last March, Heritage staffers published six op-ed pieces in The Dispatch, all criticizing the law and covering topics ranging from the law being unconstitutional to its purported cost savings being illusory.
According to political watchdog Common Cause, Mrs. Thomas earned $686,589 from Heritage between 2003 and 2007. As a member of the Supreme Court, Justice Thomas was obligated under the federal Ethics in Government Act to disclose his wife’s employment, but he failed to do so between 2004 and 2009. Finally, on Jan. 21, 2011, Justice Thomas submitted to the Committee on Financial Disclosure six letters, one for each of the six years.
These latest revelations about the lapse in the justice’s financial disclosures forms precipitated a call from House Democrats for an investigation into ethics violations by the Judiciary Committee:
“Public records clearly demonstrate that Justice Thomas has failed to accurately disclose information concerning the income and employment status of his wife, as required by law,” Democrats led by Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) wrote in a letter (pdf) Wednesday to leaders of the Judiciary Committee. The Democrats also question whether Thomas accurately reported gifts and inappropriately solicited donations.
“There is now more than enough evidence to merit a formal inquiry as to whether Justice Thomas willfully failed to make legally required disclosures, perhaps for as long as 13 years,” Common Cause president Bob Edgar said in a statement Wednesday. “Given that we now know he correctly completed the reports in prior years, it’s hardly plausible–indeed, it’s close to unbelievable–that Justice Thomas did not understand the instructions.”
Democrats contend that the Supreme Court’s protocols for such disclosures should be more transparent. “Because the Court continues to operate without a binding code of ethics or a transparent recusal process, it is time for Congress to exercise its Constitutional role and become involved in this process,” Blumenauer said in a statement.
Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY), one of the signers, appeared on Countdown with Keith Olbermann not only calling for the Judiciary Committee investigations but “exploring “retroactive recusal” in cases like Citizens United, which would nullify Thomas’ vote and overturn the ruling.” “Countdown” contributor and former White House Counsel to President Nixon John Dean joined Keith to discuss the case for “retroactive recusal” (transcript contained in the link).