A grand jury for Clarence Thomas

I don’t know that having 100,000 people do something via the Web is that big of a deal any more. I’m particularly not a fan of the “string him up” mob mentality that animates much of the left and right lobes of the ideological blogorrheasphere. I do, however, think there’s more than enough reason for the FBI to begin an investigation of the finances of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife. I therefore am glad to see Credo Action’s petition drive seeking Thomas’ resignation garner the support of 100,000 netizens — not because I think Thomas should resign on Credo’s say-so, but because I think the progressive group’s petition may force federal law enforcers to do their jobs, investigate the Thomases and set the precedent for probing justices when there is good cause. For too long federal judges — and particularly The Nine — have behaved as small gods entirely immune to the laws they administer. A grand jury subpoena for a decade of the Thomases financial records would help deter such behavior in the future.

But why, you ask, should the Thomases be investigated? Basically, Justice Thomas “forgot” to include income his wife earned over the decades on his financial disclosure forms. It’s a hell of a large amount of forgetfulness, as outlined late in May by Mother Jones investigative reporter Stephanie Mencimer:

Following a time-honored Washington tradition of dumping required but embarrassing information on a Friday night before a major holiday, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas finally released the details of his wife’s income from her year or so working for the tea party group Liberty Central, which fought President Obama’s health care reform law. His new financial disclosure form indicates that his wife, Virginia, who served as Liberty Central’s president and CEO, received $150,000 in salary from the group and less than $15,000 in payments from an anti-health care lobbying firm she started.

The disclosure was apparently prompted in part by Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), who had been needling Thomas (including on Twitter) for months to disclose how much money his wife earned from Liberty Central. That’s because challenges to Obama’s health care reform law are likely to end up before the Supreme Court sooner rather than later, and if Thomas and his wife benefited from her income working against the bill, the justice has an enormous conflict of interest in hearing any legal challenge. Thomas had failed to disclose Virginia’s income on his financial disclosure forms for 20 years; under pressure from Weiner and others, he had recently amended old disclosures to reflect hundreds of thousands of dollars she had earned working for the Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank that also opposed Obama’s health care plan.

For the few extremely naive people among my readership: Wilfully submitting a false government document is a crime. It is a time-honored American tradition to influence and sometimes bribe public officials through their kinfolk. Have the Thomases broken a federal law? I have no idea. But the available public information certainly raises questions, and I’d like the Justice Department to answer them.

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