Clarence Thomas is a man of deep integrity, according to former Thomas employees who currently have business before the Supreme Court
When I first saw this new letter vouching for Clarence Thomas’s integrity, signed by more than 100 of his former clerks, including recent indictee John Eastman1 and noted torture enthusiast John Yoo,2 my first question was whether Eastman signed from jail.
But then I realized the more interesting question is how this letter came about — and how many of its signatories have business before Thomas and the Supreme Court?
Was the letter organized via the email listserv of current and former Thomas clerks3 that Ginni Thomas is known to participate in? Was Thomas family consigliere Mark Paoletta4 involved? Who tracked responses, noting which former clerks signed and which did not? Are current Thomas clerks aware of the tally?
All of that seems likely. What’s certain is that some of the participants in this pro-Thomas PR campaign just happen to have business before the Supreme Court.
For example, Helgi Walker appears in Washingtonian Magazine’s list of “Top Lawyers” specializing in Supreme Court cases. On July 24, 2023, Walker was listed as Counsel of Record on an amicus brief filed by the Chamber of Commerce in Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo, a case in which the plaintiff (and the Chamber of Commerce) are asking the Court to overturn one its most significant decisions of the last 50 years — and, in the process, severely limit government agencies’ ability to protect our air and water from pollution, enforce workplace safety protections, and more. Sure seems like a good time to do a favor for a Supreme Court justice!
Then there’s Erik Jaffe, whose law firm bio boasts “Mr. Jaffe has been involved in over 100 Supreme Court matters, including filing 30 cert. petitions, representing half-a-dozen parties on the merits, and filing over 60 amicus briefs at both the cert. and merits stages.” Among Jaffe’s recent filings is an amicus brief for the Firearms Policy Coalition5 seeking to limit gun safety protections. In March 2023, Jaffe filed a brief on behalf of the Pacific Legal Foundation in Moore v. United States, a case currently pending before Clarence Thomas and the Supreme Court.
Adam Mortara’s6 bio boasts he “has been appointed by US federal courts to argue as invited amicus curiae seven times (apparently the most by any lawyer in US history), and is the only lawyer in active practice to have been twice so invited by the United States Supreme Court.” In 2019, Mortara filed an amicus brief in support of partisan gerrymandering in Rucho v Common Cause. Mortara was lead trial counsel for Students for Fair Admissions in its lawsuit against Harvard University; his fellow Thomas defender Patrick Strawbridge7 represented Students for Fair Admissions in their lawsuit against the University of North Carolina. Earlier this summer, Thomas and the Supreme Court sided with Mortara and Strawbridge in using those cases to end affirmative action in college admissions.
There are likely many more lawyers with current or just-concluded business before the Supreme Court who signed onto this PR campaign on behalf of one of its justices. Relative to the undisclosed millions of dollars worth of luxury travel, private school tuition, and rent-free housing for his mother that Thomas has taken from a variety of billionaire benefactors while serving on the Supreme Court — not to mention the undisclosed payments to his wife for political work related to Court cases — it might not like much that some lawyers with business before Thomas and his colleagues are waging a PR campaign on his behalf. But it isn’t nothing, either.
Canon 2 of the Code of Conduct for United States Judges reads, in part:
A judge should neither lend the prestige of the judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others nor convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge.
More than 100 former Thomas clerks, many of them currently practicing law, some of whom are frequently involved in cases before the Supreme Court, just signed onto a public relations campaign on behalf of Thomas. In itself, that could create the impression they are in “special position to influence” Thomas. And if it turns out Thomas’s wife Ginni or longtime consigliere Mark Paoletta recruited those lawyers’ support … well, that would be a tough request to turn down if you’re lawyer whose career (and, no doubt, lavish compensation) owes a great deal to your relationship with a sitting Supreme Court justice.
Eastman was indicted in Georgia, alongside Donald Trump and more than a dozen of the worst people in the world, for his role in an (allegedly, but c’mon) illegal scheme to keep Trump in the White House despite his decisive loss in the 2020 presidential election. As a reward for reading the footnotes, here’s Eastman’s mugshot:
John Yoo famously said the president can order the crushing of a child’s testicles. If you find yourself turning to John Yoo to serve as a character witness for you, it’s time for some deep soul-searching.
Paoletta has subtly acknowledged that current Thomas clerks participate on the listserv, which raises largely unexplored questions about whether the listserv is a mechanism for members who have interests in pending Supreme Court cases — including Ginni Thomas — to influence (without any public disclosure) current Supreme Court employees who play key roles in the resolution of those cases. Paoletta wrote in The Federalist last year: “There is in fact a private email listserv of the current and former Justice Thomas clerks and their spouses, developed by Ginni Thomas many years ago to help everyone stay in touch on family and career developments.” (emphasis added)
Reminder: Paoletta is the guy literally in the center of that weird oil painting Harlan Crow has of himself and Clarence Thomas.
Mortara spends his days “fighting woke corporations,” which probably tells you what you need to know about him.