Hello darkness our old friend. We live in a world where a certain senator has been keeping a laser focus on corruption in the judiciary for quite some time. It’s a shame that he has to do so but such is the world in which we live. He’s a kind of a Sherlock Holmes character and has has followed all the clues and nailed this case down tight. The only reason this story isn’t in gigantic font headlines on every front page in America is because we are so used to chaos and corruption exploding all around us that we’re virtually shell shocked as a nation. Plus, as long as the House is threatening to shut down the government, that will be the center ring of the political circus, while amazing things are happening elsewhere in the Big Top and going unnoticed, relatively speaking.
Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) gave an amazing speech on Tuesday. This should not be in the shadows, this should be in the spotlight. One person who did notice this and amplify it, thankfully, was Charlie Pierce at Esquire.
Sheldon Whitehouse is never going to lack for material, not as long as Leonard Leo’s wallet holds out, anyway. Whitehouse’s laser-focus on the ongoing corruption— both ideological and financial— of the federal judiciary is one of the most under-appreciated— and, thus far, alas, unrewarded— legislative campaigns of the moment. Late Tuesday afternoon, he took the whole tangled network of sanctified influence-peddling out for a walk. Hypothetically, of course.
Let’s say, Mr. President, that you are a creepy billionaire and it is your plan to capture and control the Supreme Court, to take it over just like 19thcentury robber barons would have taken over and captured the railroad commission that set the rates for their own railroad. Let’s say you sent millions of dollars—secret dollars—to the Federalist Society for it to funnel money to its employee and your operative, Leonard Leo…Let’s say you also sent millions of dollars to Leonard Leo’s Judicial Crisis Network, a fictitious-named front group for another front group operating out of the same hallway, on the same floor, in the same building as the Federalist Society. Let’s say you sent the Judicial Crisis Network secret millions of dollars— checks as big as $15 million, checks as big as $17 million—to run ads against Merrick Garland to help Mitch McConnell block his confirmation by the Senate. Let’s say you also sent millions of dollars, secret dollars, identity laundered through front groups, like 501(c)(4)s and Donors Trust, which exist for the purpose of scrubbing off your identity from your money, and through the 501(c)(4)s and through Donors Trust to Republican political groups, like super PACs controlled by Mitch McConnell. Let’s say, with those secret millions funneled into those super PACs, you acquired loyalty and obedience from Republican political figures. Let’s say that worked.
Yes, let’s say that.
Let’s say that worked. Let’s say that for your millions of dollars to the Federalist Society, the Federalist Society allowed you to use its name on a list of Supreme Court nominees that you and your rightwing billionaire pals and Leonard Leo cooked up—a list that the Federalist Society never considered or approved, never an agenda item, never a vote, but a list from some back room of the Federalist Society, pulled together by Leo and the billionaires that Candidate Trump promised to follow.
Yes, by all means, let’s say that, too.
Let’s say that for that Trump promise to let you pick Supreme Court Justices, you agreed to hold your nose and not object to Trump’s candidacy. Let’s say that Trump kept that promise and nominated your chosen ones to the Supreme Court, and let’s say that when Trump kept that promise and nominated your chosen ones, you sent millions more to the Judicial Crisis Network and to Mitch McConnell’s political operation, not just to stop Merrick Garland but to push the confirmation of your chosen ones: Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett.
This isn’t just a senator making a speech to the upper chamber, this is an entire case that is being laid bare. And again, we are simply shell shocked. That’s the context in which this must be taken, that this isn’t dominating cable news 24/7. But how could it, in the era of Trump, when there’s so much other bat guano hitting the fan?
Charlie Pierce points out in his column that getting Congress to establish a code of ethics for the Nine Wise Souls is an exercise worthy of Sisyphus, but he does mention one government agency that can bring them to bear, and it’s the same one that finally caught up to Al Capone and now may get its hands on Donald Trump: the Internal Revenue Service.
Did the Justices receiving gifts and emoluments from the billionaire or the operative properly report them, or did the judicial gifts reporting system fail here? The billionaires’ lawyers say that is not our business. Well, that is Congress’s business for two pretty obvious reasons. First, the reporting requirements are a law passed by Congress whose implementation we can absolutely oversee like any other law passed by Congress, and this law includes Justices. Second, the implementing body of that law is the Judicial Conference, a body created by Congress whose activities we can absolutely oversee—we created it. The notion that Congress cannot investigate to see if an Agency it created is properly implementing laws Congress passed is ludicrous on its face.
This is the outline for how to bring Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and the rest to accountability. The ethics straw is not going to hold. It has already snapped easily. But taking a look at the tax implications is the way to go. Follow The Money is the watchword in both corporate America and Washington for a reason. It’s because that’s the trail of breadcrumbs that reveals everything. And issues with a few Supreme Court justices are beyond mere ethics at this point. Now it’s appearing like the court is for sale.
Let’s keep a sharp eye on this. Whitehouse has done his homework. He’s doing what the people of Rhode Island sent him to the Senate to do, oversee the public trust and dot all the eyes and cross all the tees. Let’s just hope that his efforts aren’t lost in the cacophony of corruption which is the political norm in Washington these days.
Clarence Thomas, in particular, has never been worthy of being on the highest court in the land. If just he can have his feet held to the fire and be accountable, that should set the standard going forth. It’s tragic that this is even part of the public conversation but it is.