Uncovering a Supreme Conflict

This post is part of our year-in-review on the Common Blog – read more from our staff and leadership »

2011 was not only my first year at Common Cause, but also my first full year in the US, having only emigrated here in the Fall of 2010 from the UK. It has been a hectic and action-packed first year. Almost every day, I receive an email or call from a Common Cause supporter, wanting to know more about our Supreme Conflicts project. This project has dominated a lot of my time in 2011, and probably will continue to do so in 2012, so I thought I would reflect a little on one aspect that has received a lot of attention.

In January 2011, I discovered Justice Clarence Thomas had failed to report his wife’s employment, as is legally required, for 13 consecutive years, whilst she was employed in high profile positions including working for the House Majority leader Dick Armey, and for the Heritage Foundation. The Justice responded, claiming he had simply “misunderstood the filing instructions”.Every federal judge has to complete these forms once a year, and while somesections are a little tricky- the section requiring details of financial investments for example- the part relating to a spouse’s employment is actually very simple. Have a look for yourself. Here is the section as completed by Thomas in 2009, when Ginni Thomas earned $151,126 from Hillsdale College:

image: Justice Clarence Thomas disclosure form

 

Stephen Colbert quipped: “How is he supposed to understand filing instructions? He is only one of the nine most brilliant legal minds in the country”.

But it gets worse. I later tracked down Thomas’ disclosure forms from the time before these 13 years, and found he had correctly completed the forms for 5 consecutive years before abruptly stopping in 1997. Suddenly the (already almost unbelievable) explanation of not understanding very simple instructions becomes even harder to believe. We have asked that the Judicial Conference refer this to the Justice Department for investigation, and will follow up on this in January 2012.

This project has been about more than just Thomas’s failure to report his wife’s employment, and I encourage you to take a look at our Supreme Conflict Timeline.

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The hours of research that Nick put into the Supreme Conflicts project were possible because of your support. We need your help to keep digging in 2012.

A gift as small as $5 can go a long way in supporting our democracy work. You can have a direct impact on America’s democratic values.

 

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About Nick Surgey

Nick Surgey is staff counsel at Common Cause. Follow him on Twitter @NickSurgeyCC.

3 Responses to “Uncovering a Supreme Conflict”

  1. welcome to America — having come from across the pond you will find that America too has its “aristocracy” — this one based on money and political power….
    there are rules for the “rich and powerful” and rules for the rest of us — the 99%

    keep up the good work!

  2. welcome to America — having come from across the pond you will find that America too has its “aristocracy” — this one based on money and political power….
    there are rules for the “rich and powerful” and rules for the rest of us — the 99%

    keep up the good work!

  3. welcome to America — having come from across the pond you will find that America too has its “aristocracy” — this one based on money and political power….
    there are rules for the “rich and powerful” and rules for the rest of us — the 99%

    keep up the good work!