By Roger Shuler
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas should be disbarred for his failure to truthfully complete financial-disclosure forms over a 20-year period, according to a complaint filed by the watchdog group Protect Our Elections (POE).
In a bar complaint filed with the Missouri Supreme Court, POE attorney Kevin Zeese says Thomas committed multiple violations of the Missouri Rules of Professional Conduct. (See full complaint below.) Zeese asks the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel to take immediate action against Thomas, including disbarment.
Thomas became a member of the Missouri Bar in 1974, and former U.S. Sen. John Danforth (R-MO) was a primary supporter during Thomas’ confirmation hearings in 1991. How is the justice responding to recent allegations against him? He struck a defiant tone in a speech over the weekend in Virginia.
“Delivering the keynote speech at an annual symposium for conservative law students, Thomas spoke in vague, but ominous, terms about the direction of the country and urged his listeners to ‘redouble your efforts to learn about our country so that you’re in a position to defend it.’
“He also lashed out at his critics, without naming them, asserting they ‘seem bent on undermining’ the High Court as an institution. Such criticism, Thomas warned, could erode the ability of American citizens to fend off threats to their way of life.”
What threats are Thomas talking about? He did not make it clear. But the justice apparently feels threatened by recent reports that he repeatedly failed to disclose his wife’s non-investment income. The story, broken by Common Cause, should lead to serious consequences, Zeese says. From the bar complaint:
“Clarence Thomas breached his legal duty and violated the Rules of Professional Conduct by knowingly and willfully failing for 20 years to state truthfully on required AO 10 Financial Disclosure Forms that his wife Virginia earned non-investment income. Clarence Thomas further labored under a financial conflict of interest by failing to disclose $100,000 in support for his nomination by the Citizens United Foundation when he sat in judgment of a case involving Citizens United. Finally, he made rulings that his wife benefited from financially and professionally, and by extension, that benefited him. In short, this unethical and criminal conduct violates the Rules of Professional Conduct, and undermines the rule of law, respect for the law and confidence in the law.”
Thomas has sought to resolve the issue by filing amended financial-disclosure forms. But Zeese says that should not be the end of it:
“Justice Thomas acted knowingly and willfully. First, judges are presumed to know the law and at least four of Justice Thomas’ colleagues on the Supreme Court–Justices Breyer, Ginsberg, Kennedy and Roberts–knew well enough to disclose their spousal income during the same time frame that Justice Thomas did not.
“Second, according to the Department of Justice Handbook on Prosecutions, a defendant’s signature on a document is strong evidence of willfulness and knowledge. See United States v. Tucker, 133 F.3d 1208, 1218 n. 11 (9th Cir. 1998) (noting that signature proved knowledge of contents of return); United States v. Mohney, 949 F.2d 1397, 1407 (6th Cir. 1991) (holding that signature is prima facie evidence that the signer knows the contents of the return); United States v. Drape, 668 F.2d 22, 26 (1st Cir. 1982) (finding that defendant’s signature is sufficient to establish knowledge once it has been shown that the return was false).”
Perhaps most alarming is Thomas’ failure to disclose conflicts that might have affected his decision-making:
“It appears that Justice Thomas had a reason for not disclosing that his wife was working for a conservative think tank and a conservative 501c(4) group; he did not want litigants who had cases pending before the Supreme Court to have information that could be used to disqualify him from hearing those cases, and he wanted his family to benefit financially from his decisions.”
Does the law apply to all Americans? That question is at the heart of the POE complaint:
“Hundreds of Americans have been federally prosecuted since 1989 for various types of false statements, many involving checking or not checking a box on a form. Many of those prosecutions involved a single form, and most defendants were not given the opportunity to amend their forms before being prosecuted. Many were found guilty, fined and sent to prison. And some even appealed their cases to the Supreme Court where Justice Thomas sat in judgment of them, upholding their sentences.”
POE makes a compelling argument that Clarence Thomas has no business sitting on the U.S. Supreme Court:
“A lawyer who commits a crime is subject to disbarment. A lawyer who fails to disclose important financial information as require by law is subject to disbarment. A lawyer who makes rulings on cases that will benefit himself and his wife is subject to disbarment. A Judge who commits 20 crimes by falsifying 20 disclosure forms in order to enrich himself and his family, as did Justice Thomas, is subject to disbarment. A lawyer who withholds information about a supporter when ruling on a case involving that support is subject to disbarment.
“Justice Thomas violated the Rules of Professional Conduct: he committed crimes that carry serious jail time if prosecuted, he acted in a untrustworthy manner, his conduct involved dishonesty, deceit and misrepresentation, and he engaged in conduct that seriously interfered with the administration of justice. Therefore, he must be disciplined.”
Ed. Note: Clarence Thomas, a former attorney for Monsanto, also refused to recuse himself from Monsanto v Geertson Seed.