“Successful people have successful friends.”

The Atlantic’s Brooke Harrington has an article about Justice Thomas’s friendship with people outside the court which includes gift-giving. There is no reciprocation of “its my turn now to buy the dinner.” The gifts are far more than just a lunch or dinner at a much-desired restaurant. That there are no rules defining ethical behavior at the Supreme Court, there is still an aura of professional and legal behavior binding them. Are the scales tipped towards the person favoring a judge with gifts? What is the appearance to the public?

Mob Justice at the Supreme Court, The Atlantic, Brooke Harrington.

A favor for a favor . . .

Bonasera : 

I didn’t want to get into trouble.

Don Corleone: “I understand. You found paradise in America. You had a good trade, you made a good living. The police protected you and there were courts of law. So you didn’t need a friend like me. Now you come and say ‘Don Corleone, give me justice.’ But you don’t ask with respect. You don’t offer friendship. You don’t even think to call me ‘Godfather.’ You come into my house on the day my daughter is to be married and you ask me to do murder – for money.”

Bonasera responds to Don Corleone

I ask you for justice. How much shall I pay you?

Don Corleone : “Bonasera, Bonasera, what have I ever done to make you treat me so disrespectfully? If you’d come to me in friendship, this scum who ruined your daughter would be suffering this very day. And if by some chance an honest man like yourself made enemies, they would become my enemies. And then, they would fear you.”

Bonasera : 

Be my friend… Godfather.

Don Corleone “Good.

Some day, and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do a service for me. But until that day, consider this justice a gift on my daughter’s wedding day.”

As the article author explains, the early on scene in The Godfather came to mind. Friends help friends.

“Billionaire Harlan Crow told The Dallas Morning News, both he and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas are ‘just really friends.’ A friendship alone motivated him to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for luxury travel enjoyed by Thomas and his wife. (Perhaps, the same impulse of friendship led him to buy and renovate the home of Thomas’s elderly mother, who continues to live there, as well as to pay the private-school tuition of Thomas’s grandnephew)?”

It does raise the question of how far friendship will go when there are ethical and legal boundaries governing the limits not of the friendship but the gifts and monetary awards.

Invited to the Chicago Bears Jim McMahon team end of season party. I could not attend due to company ethical rules of dealing with suppliers. Here we have a SCOTUS Justice taking gifts worth $thousands. I was held to a stricter standard if I prized my job. I did not go after reporting it to my boss. A line maintaining an ethical and professional relationship is beginning ignored claiming nothing quid pro quo is occurring as a result. I had no leeway. 

Just friends according to Thomas.

As the author states, “disclosure promotes public confidence. Disclosure before a gift is given or an event is experienced. The consent of the receiver to be governed is realized through the trust of the system being fair and subject to meaningful oversight.

The oversight comes before the occurrence and not by discovery.

Federal employees are subject to rules designed to preserve impartiality and prevent conflicts of interest by limiting the type and value of gifts. Gifts they may receive from those doing business with them.

As it is, the Supreme Court governs itself. Its members are not even subject to the code of conduct for federal judges.

In a business endeavor, I was sent a silver goblet by a potential supplier. It was clearly entrapment. I later received a note stating a mistake was made in that one other goblet was not included in the gifts. They were asking if I received only one goblet. It was a bribe for the Lunchables packaging business. Much to lose, nothing to gain, and a loss of integrity. Which is what is being discussed. Who do you owe allegiance too?

If you take the gift, your independence is compromised and you are no longer an equal.

When the corporate and political elites conduct their business (which this is) affairs through “friendly” exchanges of favors and gifts, the result is corruption rendering democracy nonfunctional. Think Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall in mid-19th-century New York, or the Daley Machine in mid-20th-century Chicago. Scaled up to the federal level, this kind of cronyism is more dangerous for a system based in the shared public faith of justice is available, impartially, to all.

Was there quid pro quo between Thomas and Crowe? It is hard to know because of the number of gifts given from one party to the other. How did the recipient respond? There is an aura of suspicion. Crow’s firm did have business before the Supreme Court in 2004. A case from which Thomas did not recuse himself. This brings the Thomas-Crow relationship into a gray area in which no overt crime has occurred, but over which hangs a cloud of suggestive obscurity incompatible with democratic legitimacy. 

What about future cases before Justice Thomas?

Recusing one’s self from a case with one party being well known by a judge should have occurred. Thomas describes himself as a man of “regular stock,” preferring “the Walmart parking lots to the beaches. Unfortunately, he is not the only justice who appears to be enmeshed in a network of favors with the rich and powerful. 

Justice Neil Gorsuch was part owner of a Colorado property languishing on the real estate market for two years. Shortly after confirmation, Gorsuch and his co-owners sold it to the chief executive of a law firm. A firm with frequent business before the Court. Gorsuch declared the amount he earned from the sale on his ethics disclosure form (between $250,001 and $500,000) and never disclosed the buyer.

Anonymity is not a part of disclosure to the sunlight.

The law firm submitted ~ 22 cases before Gorsuch and his colleagues. In the 12 cases where Gorsuch’s decision is recorded, he decided in favor of the firm’s clients eight times. Why just eight cases?

Was Gorsuch’s role legitimate? Legitimacy has always been mostly a matter of appearance.

Recent news reports about Chief Justice John Roberts’s wife are unsettling. Whistleblower documents obtained by Insider, Jane Roberts earned more than $10 million in commissions as a legal recruiter from 2007 to 2014, with clients including at least one firm that later appeared before her husband. 

The same as Thomas’s fubars, “friendship” was once again a defense. “Friends of John were mostly friends of Jane. It certainly did not harm her access to top people to have John as her spouse.

I never saw her ‘use’ her husband position inappropriately,” one of Jane Roberts’s former colleagues told Insider. Another colleague saw her actions as corrupt, took action, and filed a whistleblower complaint.

As part of Chief Justice Robert’s wife’s sworn testimony in this hearing? Jane summed up the modus operandi of the Supreme Court and its circle with a line that could have come straight from the Godfather’s lips:

“Successful people have successful friends.” Be my friend Justice . . .