Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is the gods’ gift to investigative reporters. The man has apparently not paid for a goddamned thing in his life since Ronald Reagan installed him in his first powerful government position. His grift goes so deep, according to a new report in from The Guardian, that his powerful network of former clerks had to pay for the privilege of attending his Christmas party.
According to Venmo records reviewed by The Guardian, several former clerks who are now powerful attorneys sent payments to Thomas’s aide, Rajan Vasisht, who was in the job from July 2019 to July 2021 for a 2019 Christmas bash with the justice. The amount of money each sent to Vasisht’s Venmo account wasn’t disclosed, “but the purpose of each payment is listed as either ‘Christmas party’, ‘Thomas Christmas Party’, ‘CT Christmas Party’ or ‘CT Xmas party’, in an apparent reference to the justice’s initials.” Given that Vasisht was Thomas’ aide, scheduling his personal and official calendar and handling his correspondence, there’s no other reason for these high-powered Washington, D.C., lawyers to be sending him money.
Among those who sent money is Patrick Strawbridge, a partner at Consovoy McCarthy, who just secured a big win at the Supreme Court representing the anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions in its suit against the University of North Carolina. He has also worked for the Trump Organization, the Trump family, and Donald Trump, including representing Trump in his failed bid to keep his tax returns from becoming public—his first oral argument before the court. He clerked for Thomas in 2008-2009.
The Consovoy in Stawbridge’s firm is Will Consovoy, who was a fellow Thomas clerk in the same term. Consovoy also worked for Trump, trying to shield his tax records from then-Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. Consovoy was originally lead counsel in the case overturning affirmative action, but withdrew from oral arguments at the court when he was diagnosed with brain cancer. He died earlier this year.
Other former Thomas clerks who sent party money include:
Kate Todd, who served as White House deputy counsel under Donald Trump at the time of the payment and is now a managing party of Ellis George Cipollone’s law office; Elbert Lin, the former solicitor general of West Virginia who played a key role in a supreme court case that limited the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions; and Brian Schmalzbach, a partner at McGuire Woods who has argued multiple cases before the supreme court.
Most of Thomas’ former clerks have landed in extremely influential positions thanks to their association with Thomas, and of course the Federal Society that helped them get where they are now. A raft of them—about two dozen—ended up with Trump-appointed jobs, either in the administration or in the federal judiciary. In private practice, former Thomas clerks end up in the vast right-wing network of firms that help dark money groups manufacture court cases to do things like overturn decades of precedent in abortion protections, affirmative action, environmental regulation, etc. The Thomas alum are with firms that regularly go before the court and in judgeships on the lower courts, where they can help tee up cases to go to SCOTUS. It’s a right-wing judicial swamp.
Thomas has bragged about how he has the most diverse clerks from all backgrounds. “They are male, they are female, they are black, they’re white, they’re from the West, they’re from the South, they’re from public schools, they’re from public universities, they’re from poor families, they’re from sharecroppers, they’re from all over,” he said in 2017 while talking to students at the University of Florida Levin College of Law.
Thomas’ wife Ginni has also written about how the former clerks are like extended family and she’s the “den mother” to the group. She’s organized big reunions (which the clerks probably ended up paying for) and coordinated them all on Facebook. That ended up extending into soliciting their help with the insurrection, for which she had to apologize. Not that there weren’t insurrectionists in the group: John Eastman is among them. He’s facing potential disbarment in California for his part in the attempted coup, and because he has “repeatedly breached professional ethics.” It’s noteworthy Eastman’s “family” from his days clerking for Judge J. Michael Lutting in the mid-1990s included 2020 elector objector Ted Cruz, one of the only senators to back the 2020 scheme.
Whether the powerful, well-connected group of lawyers who paid for Thomas’ Christmas party breached those professional ethics is murky at this point. Kedric Payne, the general counsel and senior director of ethics at the Campaign Legal Center, told The Guardian that it is possible that this was simply a pay-your-own-way kind of Christmas party rather than them paying Thomas’ expenses. That would be different from a scheme of lawyers paying for access to a Supreme Court justice. “But the point remains that the public is owed an explanation so they don’t have to speculate.”
Yes, we are owed that explanation, and it’s not likely to be forthcoming. At the heart of this is Thomas’ unbounded propensity for grift, his never-ending grudge against everything, and his sense of entitlement—you see, he’s owed the lavish lifestyle his “friends” have provided him. If that includes making his extended “family” of clerks—more like a crime family—pay for the Christmas party he is hosting for them, so be it. He actually has a lot in common with Trump, doesn’t he?
This is precisely what the founders created impeachment for: Clarence Thomas. It is definitely time for Democrats to draw up those impeachment charges, even though it’s not going to happen. It can’t happen because Republicans are just as corrupt as he is. They aren’t going to let a little corruption between friends stand in the way of overturning progress case by case. But by keeping his scandals front and center, Democrats can make Republicans own him and his corruption.
The only solution to the problem of Thomas is a political one: Beat the Republicans and fix this. That means expanding the court to nullify his presence and ending lifetime appointments to the court so the likes of Thomas can’t happen again.