Backed by New Information, AFJ Joins Common Cause in Urging the Judicial Conference to Investigate Whether Clarence Thomas Has Violated Federal Disclosure Laws
Press ContactKevin Fry email@example.com
Washington, D.C., October 5, 2011—Alliance for Justice today joined Common Cause in sending a letter to the Judicial Conference of the United States calling on it to fulfill its obligation to investigate apparent violations of the Ethics in Government Act by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
The letter states that “between 1997-2007, Justice Thomas checked the box ‘none’ for spousal income on his annual financial disclosure forms, despite the fact that Virginia Thomas earned income from several organizations during this time period, including the Heritage Foundation.” Information acquired by Common Cause and AFJ shows that Virginia Thomas received over $1.6 million in income during that period, and although the disclosure forms do not require that the amounts of spousal income be revealed, the fact of her employment should have been reported.
Additionally, new evidence shows that the Justice's claim that his inaccurate filings were due to a misunderstanding of the form cannot be reconciled with the fact that he had correctly filled it out during his government service as far back as 1987 when he worked as chairman of the EEOC, as well as during his time as a judge on the DC Circuit, and continuing through his first five years of his service on the Supreme Court.
The letter requests that the Conference make a public determination about whether the Justice’s actions give “reasonable cause” to believe that a violation of Section 104(b) of the Act has occurred and to then refer the matter to the Attorney General, if appropriate.
Justice Thomas’ disclosure problems, however, are only one part of the broader issue of the ethical environment surrounding the Supreme Court. Evidence has emerged that in recent years that several Supreme Court justices have participated in overtly political activity, inappropriately lent their names to private fundraisers, and maintained financial and personal relationships with individuals and institutions that create the appearance of impropriety. These behaviors threaten to undermine public faith in the institution and are contrary to the fundamental principles laid out in the Code of Conduct for federal judges. But the Code does not formally apply to the Supreme Court, creating an ethical loophole that threatens to undermine public perceptions of the Court and its justices.
In signing the letter to the Judicial Conference, Alliance for Justice President Nan Aron said, “The ethics of Supreme Court justices must be beyond reproach. The place to start, of course, is by ensuring that the law is obeyed. That’s why we are calling on the Judicial Conference to act. But that’s not where the issue ends. The overall ethical framework around the Court must be strengthened. It makes no sense that Supreme Court justices are the only federal judges not required to formally adhere to the judicial Code of Conduct. When justices feel free to attend overtly political meetings or are advertised as keynote speakers at fundraisers for political organizations, we know that the system is not working. That must change. The time for reform is now.”
Aron also noted that “When it comes to ethics, what matters is the appearance of impropriety. In a hearing today in the Senate Judiciary Committee, Justice Antonin Scalia admitted that he has ‘very little contact with the American people.’ That astonishing statement is all the evidence we need that justices are not the best judges of public perceptions of their behavior. That’s why judges in the lower federal courts have formal ethical rules, and that’s why we think it’s long past time they were applied to the Supreme Court.”
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» Download the letter from Alliance for Justice and Common Cause (pdf)
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Alliance for Justice is a national association of over 100 organizations, representing a broad array of groups committed to progressive values and the creation of an equitable, just, and free society. AFJ works to ensure that the federal judiciary advances core constitutional values, preserves human rights and unfettered access to the courts, and adheres to the even-handed administration of justice for all Americans. It is the leading expert on the legal framework for nonprofit advocacy efforts, providing definitive information, resources, and technical assistance that encourages organizations and their funding partners to fully exercise their right to be active participants in the democratic process. AFJ is based in Washington, D.C.