As you are no doubt aware, recent reporting has shed a little light on the depths of corruption in the US Supreme Court. While he’s far from alone, Clarence Thomas has received much of the attention recently, over his failure to disclose a whole host of gifts from billionaire weirdo Harlan Crow. After the news broke, there was a veritable stampede of influential people rushing to insist that this was no evidence of corruption, which they knew because they also got gifts from Crow, and also because Crow clearly didn’t get anything in return.
Well, no. Obviously not. First of all, for a capitalist like Harlan Crow, there are a whole host of benefits to a Supreme Court justice that reliably sides with corporations and capitalists. Second, the claim that Crow had no cases before the court turns out to be false (Clarence Thomas lied? Inconceivable!). Third, Thomas’ vote on Citizens United dramatically increased Crow’s ability to directly use his billions to influence people and politics:
Since Thomas provided a deciding vote in the 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case, the Crow family’s ability to influence federal elections has increased by a factor of almost nine, according to an Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF) analysis of campaign finance data.
In Travel Rewards: What the Crow Family May Have Bought by Hosting Those Luxury Trips for Justice Thomas, ATF shows how Thomas’ vote in the 5-4 decision that effectively legalized unlimited political spending has allowed the Crows to increase their average annual campaign contributions by 862%, from $163,241 pre-Citizens United to $1.57 million post-ruling.
I would go further. While capping the wealth of the aristocracy is an excellent idea, so long as capitalists retain power through their control over employment (and the government’s efforts to support that power), they will use it to undermine and block democracy, and to eat away at the laws limiting their wealth. How can I be so certain? Because the crisis we’re seeing right now is precisely result of such an effort.
After the labor movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the passing of the New Deal, the aristocracy of the US put a huge amount of effort into regaining the power they had lost. It took them decades, but they have very nearly completed that project. If we cap their wealth, that will absolutely help, so we should do that, it’s just that that’s not enough. It’s like defunding vs. abolishing the police – The former is good, and a big step in the right direction, but it doesn’t solve the fundamental problem of a class of people having unaccountable power over everyone else.
It’s possible that, in the coming years, the new labor movement will give us something like a Green New Deal, or even a cap on individual wealth, but if we insist on preserving a capitalist class, this will keep happening. That doesn’t mean that we can go through a sort of century-long boom/bust cycle to keep capitalism “under control”, because as I’m sure most of you are aware, there’s no guarantee that we will get that reset. It certainly doesn’t seem within reach at the moment.
That’s why I want us to reach farther! Specifically, I want us to reach for real systemic change.
The Supreme Court has lost its legitimacy, if it ever had any. Capitalism, likewise, has provided ample evidence that it does far more harm than good. Both are standing in the way of workers’ rights, civil rights, and the very survival of humanity. There is no easy or obvious solution, but our best shot at building a better world is through the use of collective power. I think our best shot at real change would be through a real general strike, the way to make that possible is for unions and organized communities to coordinate with each other. That means organizing your workplace and trying to increase community resilience. The game is rigged, but history has shown that there’s cause for hope – the game has been rigged this whole time, but by working together, we’ve made a number of big advances. We can make more, and get back what we’ve lost, and we can change the rules, by working together.
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One of the things that is important to understand about these things is that there doesn’t have to be any intention to be corrupt for this to be bad. Both the appearance of bad behavior and the unconscious influence this sort of connection will have on Thomas should be avoided. This is why lower courts go to lengths to avoid even the least impression of impropriety.
The appearance of bad behavior is an obvious problem on several different levels. It undermines the credibility of the court, it makes life easier for other corrupt officials because apparently corrupt behavior is tolerated and it opens routes for somebody that did want to influence or outright bribe members of the court.
Just as critically is the influence this sort of connection will have on Thomas. There doesn’t have to be any intentional influence, just Thomas’s knowledge that a company involved in a case at the court is partially owned by Crow is enough. Many cases at the Supreme Court involve weighing two conflicting principles/laws against each other and unconscious bias will make him inclined to favor his friends side without him being aware of it.
Abe Drayton says
Absolutely, and Thomas is far from alone in this.
I previously worked at a state university, and every damned year, I had to take these stupid online classes about corruption, conflicts of interest, and gifts, and if I remember correctly, I couldn’t so much as accept a ham sandwich from someone installing/maintaining/fixing/training-us-on a hundred-thousand dollar bit of lab equipment.
my dead-end, broke-ass, barely clearing 30K/year, saddled with student debt and struggling to find housing, (not to mention I had zero influence over anything…) faced higher ethical/corruption standards than that jackass. I never had much respect for his opinions, but it’s somehow actually lower now.
Anybody want to get together and start a guillotine building club?
It doesn’t even need to go that far for it to be a problem. If you spend all your free time hanging around with multi-billionaire capitalists, you will naturally come to relate to them, and to sympathise more far readily with their concerns and interests than with those of ordinary people, who you literally never encounter in any capacity. That’s all it takes.