Justice Clarence Thomas’s critics are apparently unsatisfied by the invective and personal attacks that have been hurled at Thomas over the years. The seemingly unending stream of baseless attacks proves that they are engaged in a coordinated effort to impugn his credibility and devalue his vote in one of the most important Supreme Court cases of the 21st century.
The most laughable of the attacks came last month, when 20 members of Congress called for Justice Thomas to be criminally investigated. And I think we can safely presume they would like to see him prosecuted — for what amounts to a paperwork error (Thomas failed to disclose his wife’s income). The thinnest of reeds is being used to suggest that Justices Scalia and Alito were involved in fundraising activities when they attended events no different from those all of the justices frequent regularly.
As for the particular charges against Justice Thomas that have most preoccupied the media, they are truly deserving of ridicule. Numerous liberal scholars have acknowledged that there is simply no “there” there. Liberal court-watcher Tom Goldstein called attacks on Justice Thomas “clearly wrong.” David Garrow, a Cambridge professor, declared that calls for Thomas’s recusal were “entirely unmerited.” Richard L. Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine who is no conservative, dubbed the allegations about Thomas, Scalia and Alito “an unwarranted attack on the ethics of the Justices.”
Liberal members of the court have also spoken up in defense of Thomas. Justice Breyer said that concerns about Mrs. Thomas’s advocacy were simply “a false issue.” Former Justice Stevens is convinced that Mrs. Thomas’s work won’t have the “slightest impact” on her husband’s decision.
The attackers don’t even feign interest in having a legitimate public debate about the role of judges under our Constitution. Engaging the merits of Justice Thomas’s, or any other justice’s, judicial philosophy must be too hard. So what we are witnessing is pure character assassination.
The justices are not the only ones being targeted. The court itself has been under assault of late, exemplified most vividly by President Obama’s use of the State of the Union address to call the justices on the carpet for reaching a decision that conflicted with his policy preferences. This is a transparent attempt by the president to influence the court, the likes of which we have not seen since Roosevelt’s infamous court-packing plan. (It is also a preview of the bully-pulpit strategy we should expect if Obamacare is invalidated.)
The president and his allies know that they cannot actually harm the justices. The Constitution secures their life appointments precisely to insulate them from such assaults. But when liberals lob their sticks and stones at the justices, their bullying does real harm to the court and the rule of law. It is an attempt to threaten judicial independence and the more the press plays an unwitting role as undiscerning echo chamber for meritless accusations, the more the public’s opinion of the integrity of the court will suffer.