Clarence Thomas’s former clerks are worried that Americans don’t trust their old boss. In a letter released this week, 112 of them sought to defend his character in light of his numerous corruption scandals, characterizing his integrity as “unimpeachable” and his independence as “unshakeable.” The clerks assure the public that because Thomas’s secret billionaire benefactors have not appeared directly before him at the Supreme Court, these relationships are no cause for concern. In doing so, they set the bar for judicial ethics on the floor and then clumsily shuffle over it.
Pop quiz, how many of the former Clarence Thomas clerks who signed this letter describing his integrity as “unimpeachable” have also written torture apologia law review articles pic.twitter.com/OM0BaLhb6Q
— Balls & Strikes (@ballsstrikes) August 31, 2023
The letter describes Thomas as a descendant of West African slaves who was deeply affected by racism and isolation, yet overcame these hardships to become one of the most powerful men in the country—“from Pin Point to the Supreme Court’s marbled halls.” (A puzzling dynamic to focus on in light of conservatives’ longstanding insistence that civil rights are illegal because racism isn’t real.) The writers assert every American should know “the story of Justice Clarence Thomas.” On this we agree, but the authors suggest telling that story very differently, and without the “yachting with paleoconservative weirdos” parts.
The letter’s signatories include a who’s-who of right-wing extremists. John Yoo, for instance, is a defender of both Thomas and war crimes, having helped draft the memos providing the legal authority for President George W. Bush’s administration to torture detainees it labeled as enemy combatants. Yoo is still working to shield former presidents from accountability for their crimes by arguing for presidential immunity from prosecution. Laura Ingraham is a Fox News blowhard whose homophobia, xenophobia, and other assorted hideous behavior prompted her own brother to call for boycotts of her show. James Ho, a federal appeals court judge, is a forced birth enthusiast who thinks doctors should be able to legally limit patients’ access to abortion pills to protect them—the doctors—from experiencing an “aesthetic injury” caused by their patient’s abortion.
The most comically ill-considered person to sign the letter, however, is none other than former law professor and occasional birther conspiracist John Eastman. Eastman was just arrested in Georgia for his participation in efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election; in California, where he faces disbarment, the disciplinary charges against him literally include “moral turpitude, dishonesty, and corruption.” Personally, if I were dialing up people whose signatures could credibly convince the public of someone’s integrity, my first phone call would not be to John “I May Have Committed Some Light Treason” Eastman.
Thomas’s clerks may well have a close relationship with their mentor; after all, the justice has a reputation of being lovely to colleagues he’s not sexually harassing. But an ode to Thomas’s character by people who built their professional reputation directly on top of Thomas’s isn’t worth the Federalist Society letterhead on which it is spiritually written. The letter does not meaningfully address Clarence Thomas’s smorgasbord of high-profile ethical lapses, and stops just short of saying people with questions about his fully-funded luxury lifestyle (among other scandals) simply don’t want to see a Black man succeed.
The whole thing boils down to 850 words of “Clarence Thomas has always been nice to me.” In his clerks’ telling, Thomas’s life is a classic American rags-to-riches tale. Just don’t ask him where those riches came from.