After more than twenty years of rolling back corruption and bribery statutes, is it any wonder, as our guest on today's BradCast observed in his latest op-ed, that the U.S. Supreme Court is now "blind to its own corruption"?
BUT FIRST, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is announcing his 2024 Presidential run today, and corporate media outlets are focusing on his horse race with the disgraced former President. We mark the day, however, by focusing on several of the latest victims of DeSantis' Big Government weaponization against people of color and the LGBTQ+ community. That, by a guy whose 2022 re-election slogan in Florida was, laughably, "Freedom Lives Here".
DeSantis deserves credit for leading the way for other, similarly gerrymandered and GOP-controlled states which have begun to adopt many of the same, hateful, Big Government "cancel culture" statutes that, in Florida, have resulted in banned books, muzzled teachers, lost rights, vile threats against those who support freedom and travel warnings issued for those visiting the Sunshine State.
Today, the effort is playing out in terroristic threats against Target employees; an investigation of a Florida grade school teacher for showing an animated Disney film to her class; and the removal of The Hill We Climb --- a poem by Amanda Gorman which she read at Joe Biden's 2021 inauguration --- from a grade school library. That's just a sampling of some of the latest victims of DeSantis' cruel agenda during his tenure as Governor.
As California's Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom tweeted in response to Target's removal of items from its Pride Month collection under threats from the MAGA right, "Wake up America. This doesn’t stop here. You’re black? You’re Asian? You’re Jewish? You’re a woman? You’re next."
THEN, it's back to the seemingly never-ending, decades-long corruption of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and some similar, recently revealed corruption by Justice Neil Gorsuch and even Chief Justice John Roberts who, by and large, refuses to do anything about any of it.
There's an explanation for that, argues RANDALL D. ELIASON, George Washington University Law School professor and former chief of the fraud and public corruption section at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in D.C.
"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," Eliason argued in a New York Times op-ed over the weekend, adding: "No wonder Justice Thomas apparently thought his behavior was no big deal."
Today, Eliason tells me, "the Court itself has contributed to a legal environment over the last twenty years, where, at least as far as the Court is concerned, many of the things that are going on are not, in fact, corrupt, because they've taken this extremely narrow view of what corruption is." Essentially, he explains, cases such as Citizens United v. FEC; United States v. Sun-Diamond Growers; Skilling v. U.S.; and McDonnell v. U.S. have all greatly narrowed the definition of corruption to largely nothing less than a very specific quid pro quo bribe where a politician promises a very specific official act in exchange for payment.
That means, as some on the Court may now see it, long-term relationships where a GOP megadonor like Harlan Crow has sponsored hundreds of thousands of dollars in undisclosed luxury travel for Thomas, or purchased his mother's house, improved it, and allowed her to live there rent-free to this day, or even paying private school tuition for Thomas' grand-nephew, is not seen as "corruption" if it wasn't in return for a specific thing. Even Thomas' wife Ginni can receive tens of thousands of dollars in payoffs by far-right activists, and it's not considered corruption.
"These long term relationships, where wealthy donors can shower a politician or a Supreme Court justice with huge gifts over years --- that's okay. At least it's not criminal, unless prosecutors can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that one particular gift was because of one particular thing they did," Eliason explains, detailing how the Court has cloistered itself into a world where all of this is somehow okay.
"The reality of corruption is usually much more subtle that that, and pervasive than that. It's a long-term 'You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours' kind of arrangement. 'I'll give you these fancy trips and gifts and things over time, and then when things happen to come up that I'm interested in, you'll do the right thing for me, and we don't even have to talk about it. We don't have to have an explicit deal, it's just an understanding between us.' That's what real-world corruption is like. But for more than twenty years, the Court has issued a series of opinions that have largely put arrangements like that --- like the arrangement between Harlan Crow and Clarence Thomas --- out of the reach of the law."
We've got a lot to discuss on these matters with Eliason today, including his suggestions for how Congress could fix this clearly broken and corrupt system, even as the Chief Justice suggests (inaccurately) that doing so would somehow be a violation of the Constitution's Separation of Powers doctrine. Ironically enough, if Congress finally does manage to legislate ethics reform for the Court and someone did challenge it as unconstitutional, guess who would get to be the final arbiter? "I wonder how they are going to rule?," quips Eliason...
(Snail mail support to "Brad Friedman, 7095 Hollywood Blvd., #594 Los Angeles, CA 90028" always welcome too!)