I have an issue with Clarence Thomas. (ken grotewiel)

    His lack of transparency is a bad sign for our democracy


    Anytime I say I was a classmate of Clarence Thomas in college, it’s always ‘Really?’ It gets the blood boiling in the liberal crowd at the mention of his name. I’m working though at not disliking anyone for their political views, especially my old classmate Clarence. His lack of transparency though for the last 20 years is troublesome.

    He had a laugh that could fill a room

    We were both freshman at a Catholic seminary college in northwest Missouri in 1967. I remember him as gregarious, with a laugh that could fill a room. I don’t recall him being especially remarkable as a student or as an athlete. The same thing could be said about me of course. I also don’t remember him being very participatory, mostly just quiet.

    Clarence attended our 30th anniversary class reunion. We were assembling ourselves for a photo much like the one we took in 1968. There was the usual jostling around and waiting for the photograph to be taken. One of us was missing, and then I heard one of my classmates yell, ’Clarence! Get up here!’ Clarence had been visiting with a group just feet from us and jumped up immediately to join for the picture. It was like no time had passed. No justice Thomas. No esteemed colleague Thomas. Just Clarence. It was hilarious for everyone evidenced by a hearty laughter.

    I followed Clarence for years in the news

    A friend of mine and I followed the course of Clarence’s career, sending clippings from newspapers with news about Clarence. It was a fun pre-internet thing to do. Then Clarence was appointed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 1982 by President Reagan, and we thought that maybe Clarence was taking a different political path than we were. Nothing against him though.

    Then in 1991, we did not need to send newspaper clippings to each other anymore because Clarence was on TV for his Supreme Court nomination hearings. It was a bit other-worldly to witness him in the tense hearings when we had been classmates just 20 years previously.

    His judicial philosophy still baffles me

    Over the next 30 years I tried to understand his judicial philosophy, including his natural law views under which jurists like Clarence try to divine what our founding fathers meant as they wrote the Constitution. It’s like going back in time but not really being able to do that, but pretending to do that.

    I was also baffled by his black nationalism views, which do not include making any accommodation to people who have experienced racism and exclusion from our society. It’s like ’tough love’ from a Supreme Court Justice. It’s the classic ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ no matter how unfair your situation might be.

    Does this jive with Clarence’s life?

    I often think about the juxtaposition of his views, against the life of Clarence whose father abandoned him and his grandfather took him under his wing and raised him. He benefited a great deal from his high school seminary education and the first year of his college seminary education. If not paid directly by the Catholic church itself, the schools themselves were heavily subsidized by the church.

    I say that because I paid very little toward my seminary education given the lack of financial resources of my family. Even though I never became a priest, I still appreciate the education I received because of the generosity of parishioners throughout our rather poor and certainly rural diocese. It gave me a tremendous leg up for this B plus student. Though in part I pulled myself up by my bootstraps, it was not without a lot of others also pulling on my behalf.

    Why am I writing about Clarence today?

    I read recently that Clarence failed to disclose his wife’s income sources in 2011 for a period of six years. He didn’t report that Ginni, his spouse, received income from the Heritage Foundation from 2003–2007, which was pointed out by Common Cause.

    ‘While justices are not required to say how much a spouse earns, Common Cause said its review of Internal Revenue Service filings showed that the Heritage Foundation paid Mrs. Thomas $686,589 from 2003 to 2007.’ New York Times

    Clarence did amend his financial reports in 2011. Ginni went on to form Liberty Consulting as her business. While troubled by all this, I could have let it go, and then I recently read that:

    ‘Though Justice Thomas listed the value of Ginny Thomas’ Liberty Consulting as between $100,001 and $250,000 in 2019, he only valued it between $15,001 and $50,000 in 2020.’ Fix the Court

    Ginni Thomas was very active in 2020 in President Trump’s reelection effort and supported the Ex-President’s belief that widespread fraud was the reason why President-Elect Biden was declared the winner. I wondered if the reported $15,001 and $50,000 for 2020 was accurate given the much larger 2019 amount. Was this true then for 2020? Maybe we will know at some point.

    So, what’s my beef with Clarence?

    None personally, I assure you. My beef is his reluctance over the last 20 years to be transparent about his spouse’s income. Transparency is a fundamental tenant of our democracy, and our leaders must be forthright at least in their statement of financial interests as prescribed by law. I don’t think that is asking too much. Without transparency, who can we trust?

    Our democracy is currently under attack by right wing ideologues and wanna-be dictators. The last thing we need from a member of the Supreme Court is giving the impression that he is on that bandwagon by not being forthright about the financial interests of his spouse. This lack of trust in Clarence troubles me, brought on primarily by his lack of transparency.

    Clarence. All I ask is that you be truly transparent about the financial interests of your spouse. This makes it possible for people to make judgments on whether these financial interests are in play when you and the Supreme Court make decisions that affect all of us.

    Ken Grotewiel writes for the publication Our Sacred Democracy on Medium and is a Founding Member of the None of the Above Society.

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