The Justice Testing Our Faith in Justice

            I have never been a fan of Justice Clarence Thomas. I was in law school in 1991 when his nomination to the Supreme Court created bedlam in the Senate as he sought to replace a giant of the judiciary. Justice Thurgood Marshall, the man he replaced, was everything that Americans could hope for in a Justice. He was tested, brilliant, compassionate, and fair. Upon his introduction to America, Thomas appeared to be the opposite.

            And lest you conclude that I am simply a drippy liberal who could never be satisfied with a conservative court, let me dispel that conclusion. I believe in Chief Justice John Roberts as a great leader of a divided court. I believe that Brett Kavanaugh has turned out to be a fine justice acting in accord with his conservative principles and that the theater that accompanied his nomination was unjustified and unfairly damaging to him. And I thought that Antonin Scalia was a lion of the court and a model of integrity even though I often disagreed with his legal conclusions.

            But Thomas is another brand entirely. To conclude that he is anything but a corrupted political actor who does the bidding of his billionaire benefactors is essentially impossible.

            He has been linked in ideology to his far-right “best friend” spouse Ginny who continues to seek to overturn an election that all experts and members of the past administration and its media enablers concluded was simply false. A fairy tale.

            And now we have learned that over the years he has accepted gifts from at least one far-right billionaire political donor while cases of importance to him were pending before the court. He is a model of political rot.

            But what worries me even more about his clear disdain for ethics, and his avarice for luxuries is the impact that his behavior has on the public’s respect for the judicial system in general.

            Our courts and administrative agencies are imperfect even when running at top efficiency. Inevitably, there are delays in the administration of justice. There are mistakes made in the presentation of cases. Biases creep into decision-making even where the best efforts are made to ensure fairness and impartiality.

            In a system run by human beings, human failings will lead to imperfections.

            So when a Justice on the highest court in the land unabashedly thumbs his nose at the expected principles of fairness and objectivity that should guide him in his decision-making, it will inevitably lead the rest of us to wonder if the same type of casual care for integrity infects the rest of the system from the highest court down to the lowest.

            How can we be sure whether justice is being served when we hear all these stories of the Justice being served – lobster and caviar on super-luxury yachts and private jets and in remote, luxurious resorts.  

            Obviously, we start to doubt that we can be sure.

            And that is the problem with Justice Thomas’s behavior. He has created a sense of doubt about the integrity of our systems in general. And coming on the heels of an election where substantial doubt was created about the voting process, our faith in government continues to be eroded.

            If he had a shred of integrity, he would resign. I’m not holding my breath.

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