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Conflict of Interest

While the media was preoccupied with Congressman Anthony Weiner’s wiener, the real news — released last Friday night just before a major holiday weekend so it would be buried — was the release of the data about a major conflict of interest for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Why did I mention Weiner? Because he has been pushing Thomas to release this information, so I’m probably not the only person who wonders about the highly coincidental timing of Andrew Breitbart’s attack on Weiner.

Thomas had been dragging his heels for months about releasing information about his wife’s income earned while working for Tea Party group Liberty Central, which was one of the main organizations fighting Obama’s health care reform law. Not only did she earn $150,000 from Liberty Central as its president and CEO, but after that she formed her own anti-health-care reform lobbying firm, Liberty Consulting, where she was paid thousands of dollars to fight Obama’s bill. Thomas had failed to disclose his wife’s income (as required by law) on his financial disclosure forms for 20 years. Under pressure from Weiner (and others) he amended his old disclosures to reflect even more money she had earned working for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that also worked actively to fight health care reform.

This constitutes a pretty obvious conflict of interest for Justice Thomas when challenges to Obama’s health care reform law (inevitably) end up in front of the Supreme Court. How could Thomas possible be objective and fair when a major source of his wife’s income is from lobbying against the very bill he is supposed to impartially judge? US Title 28, Section 455 states “Any justice, judge, or magistrate judge of the United States shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” Unfortunately, when it comes to the Supreme Court, it is up to Thomas to decide if he should recuse himself.

UPDATE: The newly released financial disclosure forms show that Justice Thomas received $100,000 in support from Citizens United during his nomination, and then ruled in favor of Citizens United without disclosing that fact or disqualifying himself. In addition, he apparently engaged in “judicial insider trading” by having his wife set up Liberty Central, which would benefit from the Citizens United decision, before the decision was decided but after the case was argued before the court.

UPDATE 2: Weiner confesses.



  1. If the story is meant to be a distraction from this very issue, is Weiner aware of that and using every opportunity he can to say so?

    I saw a clip of him saying that the story was a distraction, but I didn’t catch him saying from what in particular. Maybe he did and it was left out, but it seems like it would be a good strategy to turn the tables when this sort of tactic is used.

    That being said, the “suspicious timing” argument, while clearly more convincing in certain circumstances, is such an abused position that I almost immediately dismiss it out of disgust for the times in which it is definitely relied on out of nothing but laziness.

    Friday, June 3, 2011 at 2:38 pm | Permalink
  2. Cybian wrote:

    But evidence to suggest that Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan helped coordinate the Obama administration’s legal defense of the Affordable Care Act while she served as Solicitor General is not ironic at all?

    Friday, June 3, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Permalink
  3. Iron Knee wrote:

    Cybian, Kagan has already recused herself from cases where she had worked on them, such as immigration reform. If you are going to accuse someone of something, give us a link to more information.

    Friday, June 3, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Permalink
  4. Cybian wrote:

    Actually Supreme Court Justice Kagan did not recuse herself with cases directly related to Obamacare as in the decision to not “fast-track” Virginia’s lawsuit against Obamacare. There are dozens of blogs and articles about the SCJ Kagan issue like this article:

    Friday, June 3, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Permalink
  5. Patricia wrote:

    This SO sounds like the typical “Dirty Tricks” caper used since Nixon at least!

    The real “trick” is to get the truth past the “Oh Boy! We have another ‘scandal as news'” wall that passes for reporting these days! ;(

    Friday, June 3, 2011 at 3:43 pm | Permalink
  6. Iron Knee wrote:

    Cybian, I read through those emails and I just don’t see it. It appears that she was delegating the decisions to someone else, and was just scheduling case load. It is even more suspicious that your source for this is a self declared conservative foundation, and I can’t find anything from a better source.

    Friday, June 3, 2011 at 4:12 pm | Permalink
  7. starluna wrote:

    Cybian – the link you posted shows nothing of what you imply. All of the “coordination” that is mentioned is pre-May 10, which is before she was nominated for the Supreme Court and when it was her job to coordinate the defense of a US law (that is what the Solicitor General does).

    The post-May 10 emails do not show the coordination you imply. They show her preparing to answer questions about her involvement in the anti-health care reform lawsuits during the confirmation hearings, which is standard procedure. They also show coordination of duties related to inquiries related to health care reform litigation, which again is standard procedure. People need to know who is in charge of answering what questions.

    Indeed, if you read the brief that the link you provided points to, it makes very clear that post-May 10, Kagan was given an assistant to essentially run interference to ensure that any email or other correspondence related to matters that would potentially go in front of the Supreme Court were redirected to the Acting Solicitor General.

    Also, please point to any evidence of the (usually confidential conversations) that show that Kagan was involved in decision to reject certiorari on VA’s lawsuit? The claim is made in the Judicial Watch article you cited but an assertion without a citation does not evidence make.

    So far, the evidence you provide asserting Kagan’s potential ethics violations is not convincing. And Kagan’s own behavior since she’s been on the Court shows that she has been very careful to recuse herself whenever there is a potential conflict of interest. The same cannot be said about either Thomas or Scalia.

    Friday, June 3, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Permalink
  8. Michael wrote:

    Let me see if I’ve got this. Acting in official capacity as a public servant to enforce laws passed by Congress is exactly the same as getting paid hundreds of thousands of dollars as a lobbyist for private corporations that stand to profit from undermining those laws. Gotcha.

    Friday, June 3, 2011 at 7:42 pm | Permalink
  9. Iron Knee wrote:

    Not to defend Cybian too much, but the law does say “He shall also disqualify himself in the following circumstances: … (3) Where he has served in governmental employment and in such capacity participated as counsel, adviser or material witness concerning the proceeding or expressed an opinion concerning the merits of the particular case in controversy;”

    So there could be a case for Kagan to recuse herself, if she did actually act as “counsel, adviser or material witness”. The issue is whether just the fact that the Solicitor General’s office was involved in the litigation, whether that amounts to a conflict of interest for Kagan, even if she was not personally involved.

    But I actually agree with Michael — the main part of the law says that a judge must “disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” Being president and CEO of a company that is fighting health care reform, and then starting a company whose main purpose is to lobby against health care reform sure sounds like an excellent reason to question the impartiality of her husband.

    Friday, June 3, 2011 at 10:35 pm | Permalink
  10. Michael, nicely put! *applause*

    Saturday, June 4, 2011 at 1:25 am | Permalink
  11. Chuck Makela wrote:

    I would have to agree wholeheartedly with comments #8 & #9 made by Michael & Iron Knee. However, there seems to be one fly in the ointment here: What kind of law is it that requires Justice Thomas to excuse himself from rendering an opinion on Obamacare, but turns right around and gives Thomas the right to interpret that law? That’s like saying, “Well, here’s what the law prohibits you from doing. However, the ultimate decision as to whether you want to follow the law rests with you.” Folks, I think we have a paradox in terms with this piece of legislation.

    Saturday, June 4, 2011 at 11:42 am | Permalink
  12. russell wrote:

    Update: Wiener just admitted he did it. Sort of made this smear campaign easy, do something *really* stupid and then lie about it to everybody within earshot for a week.

    Remember Chris Lee? Compare and contrast 😉

    Monday, June 6, 2011 at 6:36 pm | Permalink
  13. Iron Knee wrote:

    Compare and contrast? Sure. Chris Lee was a hypocrite.

    Personally, I don’t care about politician’s sex lives, as long as they don’t do anything too illegal. But if they talk moral righteousness and family values while cheating on their marriage, then they deserve being called out. Not because they cheated, but because of their hypocrisy.

    Monday, June 6, 2011 at 8:39 pm | Permalink
  14. russell wrote:

    Forget Weiner’s wiener. He LIED. Over and over. No question, no value judgment, no political spin. Plain and simple.

    Chris Lee was out of congress before we even saw the photo (of him shirtless). Maybe he is a liar too, doesn’t matter, he was gone before anybody cared.

    Hypocrisy? The irony is getting thick in here.

    Monday, June 6, 2011 at 9:43 pm | Permalink
  15. Jason Ray wrote:

    Wiener and Lee both behaved inappropriately and their parties are irrelevant. The Republican hypocrisy of trying to force all of us to follow their “moral road map” while they themselves blatantly ignore it is reprehensible. Lee’s personal actions are just one example of that.

    As for Weiner, he lied and that’s inexcusable. I don’t care about his sex life either, but I think any politician that blatantly lies to the people should be removed from office.

    Of course that means virtually all congressional Republicans and at least half (and probably most) of the congressional Semocrats also have to go. Maybe that’s how we
    Fix our broken political system – making lying a firing offense.

    Silly thought, though, that bill would never get passed 🙂

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 9:17 am | Permalink
  16. Iron Knee wrote:

    LOL Jason, I was cracking up when you said any politician who lies should be removed from office. I can’t think of any politician who hasn’t lied (including Obama, even though I strongly support him). And I don’t think the American people would put up with a politician who didn’t lie!

    Sad, but in a democracy you get the politicians you deserve.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 2:22 pm | Permalink
  17. Jason Ray wrote:

    Laughing is good 🙂

    There has never been a time when politicians only presented facts. I am used to hearing wild exaggerations, innuendo, taking things out of context, and fallacious reasoning. What has gotten sadly out of control is the flat-out lying where politicians say things they know for completely fabricated and then rally the res of their party to hammer those talking points even (or especially) after they have been shown to be lies.

    I would like to tape delay major debates to give some organization like Politifact a chance to score the points presented by each candidate :-). That might cause a few of the more egregious lies to be tabled.

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 9:50 am | Permalink