Criticism of Supreme Court Justices is nothing new. We do it and they do it.
But the latest tactic in going after two Supreme Court Justices, Scalia and Thomas, seems out of the ordinary. Since the first of this year we have seen three charges made.
First, Common Cause filed a preposterous disciplinary complaint because Scalia and Thomas supposedly attended a gathering sponsored by the Koch brothers (who themselves are the new target of Think Progress). It turns out that Scalia didn’t attend, and Thomas merely dropped by. Regardless, there is no suggestion that anything improper took place.
Next, there was the charge that Thomas didn’t disclose his wife’s income on court disclosure forms for a few years when she worked for a conservative think tank. Everyone knew Thomas’s wife worked for the group, and as the link above reflects, there are no penalties for failing to file disclosure documents, which is a common occurrance. This charge is new, and I’m not aware of any response from Thomas or the Court spokesman.
Now there is a charge that Scalia must recuse himself from any case involving separation of powers because he is giving a lecture to Congress (mostly new Republican members) on the meaning of separation of powers under the Constitution. This is a controversy about nothing. It is very common for judges to teach courses in law schools, and that essentially is what Scalia is doing, schooling Congressmen on the Constitution.
Ann Althouse debunks this latest kerfuffle:
Wouldn’t it be ironic if that editorial left the NYT looking rash and biased? Some liberal members of Congress will attend the session. If anything fishy goes on, they’ll let us know. I presume Justice Scalia will give the lecture he always gives about the proper role of courts in our constitutional system. I look forward to hearing about the supposedly outrageous statements that turn out to be entirely mundane within the set of things Scalia has been saying for decades.
What it all boils down to is: Liberals don’t like it that Scalia is on the Supreme Court. They’ve never liked it. And the NYT is especially dedicated to making people think that his being on the Court is something untoward, some abuse of power. I’m sure there are some NYT readers who are titillated by that sensationalism, but I find it embarrassing.
This all really stems from the Citizens United case which leveled the playing field for political spending from corporations. The left cannot stand the decision, as we witnessed last year when Obama attacked the decision during the State of the Union Address.
Faced with the reality of a split court with Justice Kennedy as the deciding vote for the next couple of years, at least, there is a full fledged attempt to delegitimize the conservatives on the Court.
[Note: This post was modified from the original]
Update: It should be noted that the financial disclosure forms do not require the reporting of the dollar amount of a spouse’s income unless from honoraria, so while the headlines are scraming how Thomas failed to report hundreds of thousands of dollars in his wife’s income, in fact the only non-disclosure at most was whether his wife had “reportable” non-investment income. There is no definition of “reportable” on the form, but the relevant statute seems to refer to “earned income” over $1000.
Update No. 2: Thomas has updated his disclosure forms:
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has corrected financial disclosures for the past 13 years that omitted his wife’s employment.
Letters amending the reports, released by the court on Monday, show that Virginia Thomas has worked for Michigan’s Hillsdale College, the Heritage Foundation and the Republican leadership in the House.
Her employment was previously known, but Thomas neglected to include it, as required, on the report of his personal finances that he files annually, along with all other federal judges. Thomas blamed the error on misunderstanding the filing instructions.
The annual report asks only for the source, not the amount, of money earned by a spouse, and Thomas did not provide his wife’s income.
Thomas included his wife’s employment until 1996.
It looks like Common Cause and its allies did catch Thomas in an error, but as the articles linked in the original post reflect, this is not the sort of error which in the normal course goes beyond a correction. But the hunt for something more meaningful continues, I’m sure, for Common Cause, Think Progress and others.