Oh, very big news, everyone. Over 100 former clerks to Justice Clarence Thomas have signed an open letter announcing that Thomas is just great, nothing to see here, no corruption so everyone needs to shut up about that.
Fox “News” is boosting the story, and it helpfully includes the actual letter itself, which is ... wow, a whole lot of not much, actually. In general, when you're defending someone against charges of accepting improper favors from people who, say, purchase his mother's house, fix it up and let her live there rent-free in preparation for turning the site into a museum of Why Clarence Thomas Is Great, you'd want to include some actual defenses.
But the Clarence Thomas Is Great Club skips all of that. Instead, most of the letter is a retelling of Thomas' entire life story. It’s a story of hardship and more hardship and being inspirational until now, finally, he's at the top of the American hierarchy and gets to be friends with people who own yachts.
"Home was Pin Point, among the Gullah-Geechee and oysters and marshlands. His father left. And a fire took all he had and the shack where he lived." And after a while his grandfather "enrolled him in a Catholic school run by Irish nuns.” Then he went to law school, and "took the road less traveled," which in this case means he "went to work for Republican Jack Danforth in the middle of Missouri.” It's just paragraphs of that rather than anything about the vacations or the yachts or the inability of the Catholic-educated ex-seminary-student-turned-lawyer to properly fill out a gift disclosure form to save his life.
It's all pretty obviously cribbed from a pre-written obituary sitting in a drawer somewhere, but it brings to mind one of the sappier introductions cookbook authors use to tell the story of how they found their favorite recipe.
"When I was seventeen, I was attacked by an ax murderer, who cut off one of my arms. Using the severed arm as a club, I beat him senseless and ran to the nearest house for safety, but the house turned out to be owned by the granddaughter of an old-timey gangster and was haunted by the spirits of three Girl Scouts who refused to let me leave until I purchased all their remaining Thin Mints. After returning home and getting my arm reattached, I was subjected to an IRS audit, which made me so distraught that I drove to the ocean to throw myself off a pier. After tying cement blocks to both feet, I jumped, landing on the sandy seabed. It was there I discovered, lodged between two rocks, the most delightful recipe for this astonishing raspberry tart."
Instead of a recipe, though, the former clerks close the section off with an insistence that this is "a story that should be told in every American classroom, at every American kitchen table, in every anthology of American dreams realized.” I get that some people have endured more hardship than others, but the notion that legal dinosaur Thomas is among the most amazing of them all is the sort of claim that will get your lights punched out during Hagiographers Society bruncheons.
More to the point, as historian Kevin Kruse points out, the letter's focus on Thomas' history rather than his conduct is "a rehash of the Bush White House's plan for his confirmation, what they called 'the Pin Point strategy.'" That makes it sound suspiciously astroturf-y.
Not to worry, though: Just look at the names of the former clerks vouching for Thomas. Among the great American legal minds defending Thomas’ integrity are John Eastman, who is currently under indictment in Florida and listed as co-conspirator in the Jan. 6, 2021 attempted coup, as well as prominent war crime proponent John Yoo. If you can't trust Eastman and Yoo to tell you who's got integrity and who doesn't, there's just no pleasing you.
Anyway, after that we get a paragraph reminiscing about how Thomas is just a damn fine fellow to work with, a real pal. "His chambers become our chambers—a place fueled by unstoppable curiosity and unreturned library books, all to get every case just right," wax his old clerks, just casually dropping an anecdote of the oozing-with-integrity Supreme Court justice who can't even return his library books.
It's only at the tail end of the letter we finally get to some vague references to the rude questions the public keeps asking about Thomas and the rest of the court: "Lately, the stories have questioned his integrity and his ethics for the friends he keeps" is the closest the open letter gets to even hinting at the current scandals.
Well, yes. That's accurate, if impossibly opaque. Outside critics are indeed questioning his integrity because of the friends he keeps, most specifically "friends" who are 1) known conservative megadonors linked with Republicanism's long-term plans for packing the courts with hard-right loyalists like several of Thomas' junior peers, and 2) who started plying him with unusually expensive gifts that include lavish vacations and future Museums of Clarence Thomas only after he was presented with his long black robes.
So, fine, let's turn this around: Where were these Republican yacht owners back when Thomas was in Pin Point, among the Gullah-Geechee? Where were they when his home burned down, or when he was in segregated schools, or when he was doing hard farm work, or in the seminary, or working to gain entry to law school?
Oh. Right. They were nowhere. The billionaire class now giving the Supreme Court justice free yacht rides and renovating his mom's house didn't give a flying shit about Thomas through any of that. It was only when Thomas landed his ass in a position of ultimate American legal authority that boy howdy did he make so many new friends. Very, very rich friends with statuary gardens who would have had their security teams shoot Thomas in the head if he appeared on their property during any time of his life when he was not a Supreme Court justice.
This isn't like returning library books, you know. When you're on the Supreme Court, surrounded by supplicating clerks that have fought tooth and nail to be your own personal servants and who will absolutely return your library books for you if you told them to do it, you're supposed to at least pretend to follow the same ethical guidelines as every other last sodding person in government. Even if you, by a strictly technical reading of the laws, don't really have to.
That one vague sentence is the end of talking about the thing Thomas is actually being criticized for. Then we're back to gauzy references to his life story and how even coup plotters like Eastman and international war crime defenders like Yoo find Thomas just so damn "unimpeachable" that it brings tears to their eyes to think anyone would doubt him.
"A bust of his grandfather—himself raised by a grandmother born into slavery—watches over his office," goes one of the closing lines, a line that's both inspirational and that is a reminder that there are very few families in America who can afford to commission a freakin' bronze bust of a grandparent. But there's no actual content to the letter other than, “He's a great guy to work with,” say the people whose careers he helped start.
Just ask Trump Deputy Legal Adviser John Eisenberg, who moved to improperly classify the transcript of the Trump call to Ukrainian officials that would lead to Trump's first impeachment. Just ask Bush-era waterboarding defender Steven Bradbury, or Harlan Crow-linked 5th Circuit Judge James Ho, the judge who recently made news for a laboriously crackpotty dissenting opinion claiming that Catholic doctors had standing to block abortions they had nothing to do with because they suffer an aesthetic injury when women take mifepristone without their permission.
Yeah. Yeah, let's ask all of these people to vouch for the integrity of the guy getting yacht trips from billionaires, said Clarence Thomas' closest allies. That'll work out great.
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