At the risk of incurring the wrath of those who believe that Anthony Weiner’s crotch is the most important political story of the week, I’d like to reference something that he said (or tried to say) during his inept encounter with the press on Tuesday. At that moment, nobody had any interest in anything he had to say about anything (except, of course, the crotch story), which is why this teensy little issue was largely unreported:Conflicts of interest on the U.S. Supreme Court.This issue is real and substantive. Granted, Weiner in the throes of his crisis was hardly an ideal messenger, but he was trying to convey some important news that broke on the eve of the Memorial Day weekend. It was one of those classic document dumps, the kind that always seems to occur in Washington on Fridays, when presumably fewer people might notice. And who knows, maybe some of you might consider this to be more crucial to the republic than the congressman’s crotch.Clarence Thomas – who at some point will sit on a high court case involving the health care reform law – finally submitted financial disclosure forms which revealed that his wife earned roughly $165,000 working for several groups that fought and lobbied against the health reform law. Virginia Thomas pulled 150 grand from the tea-party group Liberty Central, and a maximum of 15 grand from Liberty Consulting, a lobby group that she helped to launch. It would be nice to know whether Thomas and his wife enjoyed any of the money she made while working against health care reform, given the fact that Thomas and his brethren will surely be faced with deciding the constitutionality of health care reform. There does seem to be a potential conflict of interest, because, according to the provisions of the Supreme Court’s conflict of interest code…Hang on, I almost forgot. There is no Supreme Court code governing conflict of interest. There are no rules. There is no accountability. The high court judges police themselves, which of course means that, in practice, they do not. And this issue has been percolating for a long time; back in March, a bipartisan coalition of 107 law professors from 76 law schools asked Congress to require that judges with perceived conflicts at least explain in writing the reasons why they’ve refused to recuse themselves. Because right now they don’t have to explain anything.Maybe it’s just me, but the mystery crotch photo seems less weighty than the ill-reported fact that the highest court in the land has no ethical code. The court defies the traditional legal principle of nemo judex in causa sua (nobody should be a judge of his own case). It deems itself exempt from the Code of Judicial Conduct, which governs the lower federal courts. Aside from the nine judges at the top of the judicial pyramid, all other federal judges are inhibited from putting themselves in any situation that might convey an appearance of impropriety.By contrast, dodgy appearances don’t matter at the high court. We now know from reports that when Thomas was tapped for the high court in 1991, the conservative activist group Citizens United spent 100 grand to support his bid. In 2009, Thomas voted in favor of Citizens United in the historic ruling that severely loosened the big money restrictions in politics. This past March, Thomas’ closest court buddy, Antonin Scalia, was asked to recuse himself from a Wal-Mart gender bias case because his son is a key labor employment specialist at the law firm representing Wal-Mart. Scalia refused, of course. He and Thomas also had no qualms appearing at a political retreat hosted by the Koch brothers, the billionaires who wanted to loosen the big-money restrictions in politics. The two judges did so, prior to their votes in favor of loosening the money.Perhaps, according to the prevailing judicial code, Thomas would still be deemed good to go as a judge sitting on health care reform. Perhaps, under the judicial code, Scalia would still be good to go on Wal-Mart. The point is that, in the absence of any code, we’ll never know.This was the issue that Weiner was trying to bring up the other day. He has been dogged about it for a long time; he’s the one who prodded Thomas to come clean about those spousal earnings. Weiner’s timing on Tuesday was terrible, given his woes, but long after his entertaining sideshow is gone, the urgency of this ethical issue will be with us.
Meanwhile, the monthly jobs report was dismal today and the jobless rate upticked, thus prompting ahistorical Obama haters to conclude that he is toast 17 months from now. Maybe, maybe not. Nate Silver, the stats whiz at Five Thirty Eight, shows via his chart that “historically, the correlation between the unemployment rate and a president’s electoral performance has been essentially zero.”
And meanwhile, former Democratic ’08 presidential hopeful and ’04 veep candidate John Edwards was indicted today, as expected, for allegedly using campaign donations to finance the coverup of his sex scandal. Lanny Breuer, head of the Justice Department’s criminal division, said: “As this indictment shows, we will not permit candidates for high office to abuse their special ability to access the coffers of their political supporters to circumvent our election laws.”
What a precipitious plunge for the one-time golden boy. Remember that story about how Edwards had promised Reille Hunter a rooftop wedding with live music from the Dave Matthews Band? By the time this trial plays out, he may be lucky to get conjugal visits.