Yvonne Abraham, Boston Globe, May 7, 2023
Happy coronation weekend!
By the time you read this, King Charles III of England finally will have been crowned. Huzzah!
We talk a good game in this country about equality and all that. We fought a full-on war to get out from under the royal thumb. But really, we’re suckers for the pomp, the majesty, and the obscure rituals (The coronation spoon!) brought to us by those unelected fancypantses across the pond.
The big event might be over in Old Blighty, but don’t feel forlorn, royal-lovers. As the last few weeks have shown, America has kings and queens, too. And unlike hapless Chuck, they still rule over us all.
I’m talking about the US Supreme Court, of course — that panel of nine jurists who are the final word on all laws of the realm, who may reign as long as they live, and who answer to no mortal. Theirs is a monarchy so absolute it’s as if the French Revolution never happened, let alone the American one.
Take his royal highness Clarence Thomas. It seems like just about every day lately we’ve been treated to new revelations of the tribute paid to the conservative jurist and his election-denying wife, Ginni, much of it offered by billionaire GOP donor Harlan Crow. For decades, Crow has been treating Thomas to luxurious vacations and gifts, which his honor has declined to report on financial disclosure forms; Crow also bought the house in which Thomas’s mother still lives, and paid for renovations; and covered the $6,000 per month private school tuition of Thomas’s grand-nephew.
All of these gifts would appear to be a violation of the federal law which says no federal judge may accept anything of value from someone who has business before the court, or whose interests may be affected by its decisions. As Vox’s Ian Millhiser points out, that includes Crow — and just about every other American.
For example, Thomas, long a foe of affirmative action, will likely soon be part of a majority ending race-based admissions policies in colleges across the country. That would affect millions of people, including Black Americans like him, Justice Bootstraps, forcing them to find their own billionaire benefactors, just like everybody else.
If Thomas were in any other branch of government, or even on a lower bench, all of these undeclared gifts would spark an investigation, perhaps even lead to impeachment.
Democrats have asked Chief Justice John Roberts to answer questions about court ethics in a Senate hearing, but Roberts refused, citing the separation of powers, and “the importance of preserving judicial independence.’’
As every middle schooler knows, the separation of powers means that the Supreme Court, one of three branches of government, has a power superior to the executive and the legislative branches, and so it is not subject to any checks and balances from the peons therein. To answer legislators’ questions about what looks like rampant corruption would be to compromise that awesome sovereignty.
Here’s a simpler way to put it: L’etat, c’est nous. Those in the Roberts majority recognize none but their own divine authority. Challenging their integrity — even talking about undue influence — undermines the legitimacy of the court, and we must never, ever do that. The Supreme Court would be beyond reproach, if only its critics would stop reproaching it.
So Republicans in Congress and elsewhere would like Democrats trying to get to the bottom of the Thomas-Crow operation to zip it. They care only about the court’s integrity, and would of course be totally fine if, say, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, nominated by President Biden, had for decades been taking undisclosed gifts worth hundreds of thousands from liberal billionaire George Soros.
So where does that leave those who still have the temerity to be troubled by poor, persecuted Thomas and his generous benefactors? Nowhere, is where. Impeachment requires a two-thirds majority in the Senate, which — thanks in part to decisions on voting rights and campaign funding by this same Supreme Court — will never happen.
It appears Thomas will be able to remain on the nation’s highest bench for the rest of his life, if he wishes.
Somebody get the man a crown. Long live the king!
Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at email@example.com
Image Credits: Cliff Owen, AP