Throw Clarence Thomas Off the Bench
The Supreme Court justice broke the law by not disclosing his wife's $700K think-tank payday. Paul Campos on Clarence Thomas' "preposterous" defense and why he likely won't be punished.
March 3, 2011
The criminal-law scholar George Fletcher once quipped that the maxim "ignorance of the law is no excuse" is one of the few fundamental principles of law that most people actually know. As harsh as this principle may sometimes be when applied to ordinary citizens, applying it to justices of the Supreme Court seems only reasonable.
Thus it's difficult to feel sympathy for Clarence Thomas, as he finds himself embroiled in a controversy over his failure to reveal the sources of his wife's non-investment income (or indeed that she even had any such income). The 1978 Ethics in Government Act requires all federal judges to fill out annual financial-disclosure forms. The relevant question on the disclosure form isn't complicated: Even if Justice Thomas wasn't a lawyer, he shouldn't have needed to hire one to explain to him that the box marked NONE next to the phrase "Spouse's Non-Investment Income" should only be checked if his spouse had no non-investment income.
In fact Ginni Thomas was paid nearly $700,000 by the Heritage Foundation, a "conservative think tank," between 2003 and 2007, as well as an undisclosed amount by another lobbying group in 2009. Justice Thomas' false statements regarding his wife's income certainly constitute a misdemeanor, and quite probably a felony, under federal law. (They would be felonies if he were prosecuted under 18. U.S.C. 1001, which criminalizes knowingly making false statements of material fact to a federal agency. This is the law Martha Stewart was convicted of breaking by lying to investigators.)
Thomas' defense is that he didn't knowingly violate the law, because he " misunderstood" the filing requirements. This is preposterous on its face. Bill Clinton was impeached—and subsequently disbarred—for defending his false statements about his affair with Monica Lewinsky with an excuse that wasn't as incredible as the one Thomas is now employing...