Thursday, May 25, 2023

Captured Court

Today I listened to a recent "More Perfect "podcast, which was an interview with two reporters, one from ProPublica who broke the series of Clarence Thomas/Harlan Crow stories, and the other a New York Times reporter who broke the recent Ginni-Thomas-paid-by-Harlan-Crow story.

It has interesting details of how they do their jobs covering the Supreme Court and how they, particularly ProPublica, came to find out about Harlan Crow flying Thomas around the country.

It made me remember something Chris Hayes said a few weeks ago on his show that I meant to mention. I think this is true, and I haven't seen it said elsewhere, though my reading/listening is limited, of course.

It's easy to say that Thomas was already a conservative when he got on the court, and that Crow isn't bribing him to do anything he wouldn't do anyway. But this information about Thomas is more than that. What Crow is doing is part of a larger plan set in motion by the Federalist Society and its allies (of which Crow is one). They saw one Republican-appointed justice after another since the 1970s fail to maintain conservative principles.

John Paul Stevens. David Souter. Sandra Day O'Connor in many ways. Even Anthony Kennedy. 

The majority of justices were appointed by Republican presidents, but the court would never move as far to the right as extremists wanted it to, Hayes said. All of those conservatives joined the court and instead of upholding the beliefs they were supposed to have, they were taken over by the "evil Left."

So the right took to locking down their vetting of candidates more strictly through the Federalist Society. Over the years, they built that organization's control from the law school level to clerkships and judgeships to the Supreme Court. That part has been fairly transparent (aside from the organization's funding source), especially in the last decade or so.

But the part that Hayes called my attention to is the what's relevant to the relationship of Thomas and Crow. The problem, in the view of the right, was that justices like Souter, Stevens, and the others were falling prey to "other influences"... all those liberals around the court. It couldn't be that those justices had open minds and grew with their jobs. No, that couldn't be possible within the right-wing worldview.

So they created the universe of conservative think tanks, conferences, and donors over time to envelope Republican-appointed justices. There were events to go to with rich people, private jets and yachts to travel on, and and retreats to attend. Hunting parties like the one where Antonin Scalia died. Meetings with handlers, essentially.

Hayes called it the "captured court."


The previous episode of "More Perfect" is called Clarence X, and it came out just before all of the stories about Thomas and Crow hit the news. I haven't listened to it yet, but I gather it traces Thomas's shift from Black radical to Black conservative. I also just learned that there's an entire podcast series coming out at the end of the month on that topic, which I may have to look into as well.

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