Clarence Thomas crows his innocence

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas claims it’s no big deal that he received lavish gifts and travel for more than 20 years from billionaire Harlan Crow. They claim they’re just “dearest friends.” Thomas crows that his friend “did not have business before the court.” Crow crows he’s never received anything in return. 

Not true on both fronts. A case involving a company connected to Crow was decided by the Supreme Court. Thomas did not recuse himself. Several organizations over the years connected to Crow lobbied the Supreme Court by submitting official legal documents (called “amicus briefs”) supporting one side or the other of the cases. The Club for Growth, which received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Crow, was a major opponent of the McCain-Feingold law. That law was overturned in the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which Thomas supported.

 Citizens United expanded the opportunity to corrupt the political process to serve Crow’s interests. Harlan and his wife significantly expanded their political campaign investments to state and federal political candidates, committees and parties following Citizens United – thanks to their “dearest friend.” 

Two take-a-ways from this are:

1. The Supreme Court is too powerful and Justices are unaccountable

The “checks and balances” between the three branches of government isn’t working as the judicial branch (Supreme Court) is arguably the most powerful in its history. Its power to unilaterally decide that actions by elected members of Congress and the elected President are unconstitutional affects almost every aspect of governing. Moreover, appointed Justices can serve for life, with virtually no accountability to anyone. Clarence Thomas’ actions are a result of weak ethics regulations and fear by Congress to intervene.  

Both aspects are significant departures from the structure and power of judiciaries in other nations, resulting in an independent, but not superior, judiciary. 

2. The Supreme Court’s power expanded corporate power by granting corporations constitutional rights   

While seemingly unprecedented in breadth, arrogance and brazenness, the camaraderie, identification and solidarity between Supreme Court Justices and the super rich and corporate agents have been reliable and consistent since our nation’s founding. Justices in our nation’s history have tended to be in the upper class and/or were corporate attorneys. A very few were/are attorneys with a labor, human rights, consumer, or environmental background. 

It’s not at all surprising, thus, that when corporations were first granted constitutional rights to railroad corporations in the 1880’s, three of the nine Supreme Court Justices were former railroad attorneys and a fourth, Stephen Field was a personal (maybe even “dearest”) friend of Leland Stanford, President of Southern Pacific Railroad Company. 

Court-granted constitutional rights to corporations stripped the power to define corporate actions from legislatures (almost exclusively at the state level), where it had been since the nation’s founding. Defining corporate actions became profoundly less democratic when it was moved to the “dearest corporate friendly” judicial branch.

The We the People Amendment (HJR 54) would reduce the power of both the Supreme Court and corporate entities. Ending corporate constitutional rights (and money defined as "free speech") would mean that the legislative branch would once again have the main role in deciding the democratic boundaries of corporate actions.

Congress, state legislatures, even city councils – as well as citizens in those states that permit the direct creation of laws through ballot initiatives – would have the power to ensure that corporate entities are unable to influence political decisions governing health care, education, transportation, food, environmental protection, housing, taxes, etc.

See: What Could Change if Corporate Personhood Were Abolished?

Working to pass the We the People Amendment (HJR 54) – already up to 49 House co-sponsors – is something worth crowing about. 

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