Jump to content
The Education Forum

Supreme Court Justice Thomas fails to report wife's income


Douglas Caddy
 Share

Recommended Posts

latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-thomas-disclosure-20110122,0,2413407.story

Clarence Thomas failed to report wife's income, watchdog says

Virginia Thomas earned over $680,000 from conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation over 5 years, a group says.

But the Supreme Court justice did not include it on financial disclosure forms.

By Kim Geiger, Washington Bureau

Los Angeles Times

January 22, 2011

Reporting from Washington

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas failed to report his wife's income from a conservative think tank on financial disclosure forms for at least five years, the watchdog group Common Cause said Friday.

Between 2003 and 2007, Virginia Thomas, a longtime conservative activist, earned $686,589 from the Heritage Foundation, according to a Common Cause review of the foundation's IRS records. Thomas failed to note the income in his Supreme Court financial disclosure forms for those years, instead checking a box labeled "none" where "spousal noninvestment income" would be disclosed.

A Supreme Court spokesperson could not be reached for comment late Friday. But Virginia Thomas' employment by the Heritage Foundation was well known at the time.

Virginia Thomas also has been active in the group Liberty Central, an organization she founded to restore the "founding principles" of limited government and individual liberty.

In his 2009 disclosure, Justice Thomas also reported spousal income as "none." Common Cause contends that Liberty Central paid Virginia Thomas an unknown salary that year.

Federal judges are bound by law to disclose the source of spousal income, according to Stephen Gillers, a professor at NYU School of Law. Thomas' omission — which could be interpreted as a violation of that law — could lead to some form of penalty, Gillers said.

"It wasn't a miscalculation; he simply omitted his wife's source of income for six years, which is a rather dramatic omission," Gillers said. "It could not have been an oversight."

But Steven Lubet, an expert on judicial ethics at Northwestern University School of Law, said such an infraction was unlikely to result in a penalty. Although unfamiliar with the complaint about Thomas' forms, Lubet said failure to disclose spousal income "is not a crime of any sort, but there is a potential civil penalty" for failing to follow the rules. He added: "I am not aware of a single case of a judge being penalized simply for this."

The Supreme Court is "the only judicial body in the country that is not governed by a set of judicial ethical rules," Gillers said.

A spokesman for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, which oversees the financial disclosures, could not be reached Friday night to comment on what actions could be taken. In most cases, judges simply amend their forms when an error is discovered.

"Without disclosure, the public and litigants appearing before the court do not have adequate information to assess potential conflicts of interest, and disclosure is needed to promote the public's interest in open, honest and accountable government," Common Cause President Bob Edgar wrote in a letter to the Judicial Conference of the United States.

The allegation comes days after Common Cause filed a letter requesting that the Justice Department investigate whether Justices Thomas and Antonin Scalia should have disqualified themselves from hearing a campaign finance case after they reportedly attended a private meeting sponsored by Charles and David Koch, billionaire philanthropists who fund conservative causes.

In the case, Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, the court ruled that corporate and union funds could be spent directly on election advertising.

The Koch brothers have been key supporters of the group Americans for Prosperity, which spent heavily in the 2010 midterm election and claims a nonprofit tax status that allows it to avoid disclosing its donors.

Clarence Thomas has been the lone justice to argue that laws requiring public disclosure of large political contributions are unconstitutional.

A Supreme Court spokesperson later said that Thomas dropped by the private event, but that Scalia did not attend.

kim.geiger@latimes.com

Tom Hamburger in the Washington bureau contributed to this report.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't necessarily see anything wrong with his wife receiving the donation but it MUST be disclosed. Whether or not it was an innocent mistake (unlikely) and whether or not there is a sinister motive for not disclosing it, that judge is now tarred with the brush of uncertainty. He has become suspect regardless of whether he is completely innocent or not.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't necessarily see anything wrong with his wife receiving the donation but it MUST be disclosed. Whether or not it was an innocent mistake (unlikely) and whether or not there is a sinister motive for not disclosing it, that judge is now tarred with the brush of uncertainty. He has become suspect regardless of whether he is completely innocent or not.

The New York Times

January 25, 2011

Thomas Cites Failure to Disclose Wife’s Job

By ERIC LICHTBLAU

WASHINGTON — Under pressure from liberal critics, Justice Clarence Thomas of the Supreme Court acknowledged in filings released on Monday that he erred by not disclosing his wife’s past employment as required by federal law.

Justice Thomas said that in his annual financial disclosure statements over the last six years, the employment of his wife, Virginia Thomas, was “inadvertently omitted due to a misunderstanding of the filing instructions.”

To rectify that situation, Justice Thomas filed seven pages of amended disclosures listing Mrs. Thomas’s employment in that time with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative policy group, and Hillsdale College in Michigan, for which she ran a constitutional law center in Washington.

The justice came under criticism last week from Common Cause, a liberal advocacy group, for failing to disclose Mrs. Thomas’s employment as required under the 1978 Ethics in Government Act. While justices are not required to say how much a spouse earns, Common Cause said its review of Internal Revenue Service filings showed that the Heritage Foundation paid Mrs. Thomas $686,589 from 2003 to 2007.

The group also asserted that Justice Thomas should have withdrawn from deciding last year’s landmark Citizens United case on campaign finance because of both Mrs. Thomas’s founding of another conservative political group in 2009 and Justice Thomas’s own appearance at a private political retreat organized by Charles Koch, a prominent conservative financier.

Justices Thomas and Antonin Scalia said in a statement released by the court on Thursday that they had each spoken at dinners at the Koch retreat and that their expenses were paid by the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group.

The additional filings released by the court on Monday regarding Mrs. Thomas’s employment put Justice Thomas in the odd position of issuing two formal statements in five days about his personal dealings.

Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause, said he found Justice Thomas’s explanation about the omission to be “implausible.”

As a Supreme Court justice who regularly hears complex legal cases, “it is hard to see how he could have misunderstood the simple directions of a federal disclosure form.”

Deborah L. Rhode, a law professor at Stanford University who specializes in judicial ethics, said the recent episodes could do some harm to Justice Thomas’s reputation. But she added that it was unlikely to have any lasting impact on him or on the disclosure requirements that give justices wide leeway to decide whether they have a financial conflict in hearing a case.

Professor Rhode noted, for instance, that it was still unknown who contributed a total of $550,000 to Liberty Central, the conservative legal group that Mrs. Thomas founded in 2009 in opposition to President Obama’s policies. The amended disclosures filed by Justice Thomas, which do not include income in 2010, do not mention Liberty Central, and no regulation requires the group or the Thomases to disclose the source of the group’s financial support. Mrs. Thomas left the group in the fall.

“There’s no formal mechanism for review of conflicts among Supreme Court justices,” Professor Rhode said. “Personally, I think issues like this are somewhat scandalous for the court, but from what we’ve seen when these issues have come up before, I don’t see that changing.”

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

Justice Thomas’s Wife Sets Up a Conservative Lobbying Shop

By ERIC LICHTBLAU

The New York Times

February 5, 2011

WASHINGTON — The wife of Justice Clarence Thomas, who has raised her political profile in the last year through her outspoken conservative activism, is rebranding herself as a lobbyist and self-appointed “ambassador to the Tea Party movement.”

Virginia Thomas, the justice’s wife, said on libertyinc.co, a Web site for her new political consulting business, that she saw herself as an advocate for “liberty-loving citizens” who favored limited government, free enterprise and other core conservative issues. She promised to use her “experience and connections” to help clients raise money and increase their political impact.

Ms. Thomas’s effort to take a more operational role on conservative issues could intensify questions about her husband’s ability to remain independent on issues like campaign finance and health care, legal ethicists said.

Justice Thomas “should not be sitting on a case or reviewing a statute that his wife has lobbied for,” said Monroe H. Freedman, a Hofstra Law School professor specializing in legal ethics. “If the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned, that creates a perception problem.”

Ms. Thomas’s founding of her own political consulting shop, Liberty Consulting, was first reported Thursday by Politico, which said she had begun reaching out to freshmen Republicans in Congress.

The move comes a few months after she gave up the top spot at Liberty Central, a conservative Web site that she founded in 2009 and that has strong links to the Tea Party movement.

An anonymous $500,000 donation to start up Liberty Central came from Harlan Crow, a Dallas real estate investor and Republican financier, Politico reported.

Mr. Crow, reached by phone Friday, would not say whether he was the source of the money. “I disclose what I’m required by law to disclose,” he said, “and I don’t disclose what I’m not required to disclose.”

Ms. Thomas did not respond to telephone and e-mail requests for an interview on Friday. The Daily Caller reported in December that she had said in an interview that she was looking forward to a new role involving “lobbying on Capitol Hill” and a variety of other hands-on operational duties.

Arn Pearson, a vice president at Common Cause, a liberal group that has been critical of potential conflicts at the Supreme Court caused by Ms. Thomas’s work, said her new position, combined with Justice Antonin Scalia’s recent address before a closed-door seminar of the Tea Party Caucus, provided further evidence of “the politicization of the court.”

“The level of bias we’re seeing is really troubling,” Mr. Pearson said.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in



Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...