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6 Feb 2011

Justice Thomas accused of possible ethics violations

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February 6, 2011 Category: Stateside Posted by:

The Afro


Common Cause, a watchdog group that monitors government and industry, is raising questions about the ethics of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas over his failure to disclose income data for his wife Virginia, over a six-year period from 2003-2009.


“Common Cause is concerned about omissions in Justice Thomas’s annual financial disclosures,” said Common Cause President Bob Edgar. “… we discovered apparent gaps over seven years in Justice Thomas’s disclosures of his wife’s earnings.”


The day after the group raised questions about the conservative Black jurist’s ties to a right-wing industrial giant, they zeroed in Jan. 21 on compliance with Ethics in Government rules. Common Cause pointed out to the Judicial Conference of the United States, the nation’s court regulator, that Virginia Thomas’ earnings while at the Heritage Foundations, a conservative advocacy organization, were not reported from 2003 to 2007. During that period, Common Cause indicates that Thomas earned $686,589, a salary of $120,000 or greater each year.


Common Cause indicates that she left Heritage in 2008; but in 2009 Liberty Central, an organization with strong ties to the Tea Party which she co-founded, paid Thomas for services, according to its chief operating officer Sarah Field.


The Ethics in Government Act of 1978 requires all federal officials, including Supreme Court justices, to disclose their spouse’s income. Thomas, however, indicated “none” under the latter category on his disclosure forms from 2003 to 2009.


The latest concerns come on top of previous criticism of Virginia Thomas’ connections to the Tea Party while her husband sits as a Supreme Court justice. Additional concerns have been raised with respect to ties to the Koch Industries, one of the nation’s largest privately-held companies owned by the Koch brothers, conservative magnates whose firm is the umbrella for companies including Georgia-Pacific, LLC that sells consumer goods under the Quilted Northern®, Angel Soft®, Brawny®, Sparkle® , Soft ‘n Gentle®, Mardi Gras®, Vanity Fair®, and the Dixie® brand names.


Common Cause on Jan. 20 requested the Justice Department investigate the “apparent involvement” of both Thomas and Justice Antonin Scalia in what it calls “strategy sessions” hosted by Koch Industries, in January 2010.


Common Cause claimed that sitting justices meeting with the second largest private corporation in the U.S. raises questions about whether the two jurists should back away from upcoming cases involving campaign financing by corporations.


The late political expert Ron Walters told the AFRO last year that it was a little unnerving that Thomas was involving herself with the Tea Party movement because of the “vicious conservatism” it preaches. However, Walters, the former director of African-American Leadership and a professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland, thought it may have been part of a larger strategy.


“There’s an attempt on the part of the Republican Party to incorporate the Tea Party movement,” said Walters. “It’s possible that she’s becoming involved in that effort.”


Common Cause is asking the Judicial Conference, the regulator for the judicial branch, to probe the matter and, if warranted, refer the issue to Justice Department for enforcement under the Ethics in Government Act.


If found guilty, Thomas would become only the second justice in modern times to encounter ethics problems. Liberal Associate Justice Abe Fortas resigned in 1969 under pressure over financial and ethics issues.

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