'Blind to its own corruption': Supreme Court scorched for making political bribery all but legal
Clarence and Ginni Thomas (Facebook)

The Supreme Court is incapable of policing its own amid allegations of bribery and corruption in part because they don't even recognize what bribery and corruption is anymore, wrote former white collar fraud investigator Randall D. Eliason for The New York Times on Thursday.

This comes amid a mountain of stories investigating gifts, luxury vacations, and sweetheart real estate deals given to Justice Clarence Thomas by billionaire GOP megadonor Harlan Crow — and how other justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts, may have familial conflicts of interest.

"The scandal surrounding Justice Clarence Thomas has further eroded the already record-low public confidence in the Supreme Court. If Chief Justice John Roberts wonders how such a thing could have happened, he might start looking for answers within the cloistered walls of his own courtroom," wrote Eliason. "Over more than two decades, the Supreme Court has gutted laws aimed at fighting corruption and at limiting the ability of the powerful to enrich public officials in a position to advance their interests. As a result, today wealthy individuals and corporations may buy political access and influence with little fear of legal consequences, either for them or for the beneficiaries of their largess."

One of the most famous examples was Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, where the court ruled there can't be any limits on how much independent political organizations spend on behalf of other candidates — a ruling that has been subsequently been built on in several later cases that also eliminated several campaign finance laws. And the court this month weakened anti-corruption laws by throwing out convictions for a pair of individuals who improperly steered New York State money.

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As Eliason noted, some Supreme Court decisions weakening anti-corruption laws, like United States v. Sun-Diamond Growers of California, involved arrangements between public officials and private businessmen that look very similar to the one Harlan Crow has with Clarence Thomas.

"Viewed in light of this history, the Thomas scandal becomes less surprising. Its own rulings would indicate that the Supreme Court doesn’t believe what he did is corrupt. A powerful conservative with interests before the court who regularly provides a justice with vacations worth more than his annual salary is, as the court said in Citizens United, merely the 'appearance' of potential corruption. In the court’s view, the public has no reason to be concerned," wrote Eliason.

Congress, he wrote, should step in and make more laws clarifying that private businessmen keeping public officials on retainer is unlawful — and beefing up disclosure requirements to increase transparency.