click to enlarge Public domain Should Thomas resign — or should Congress expand the Court — Obama would be one of the logical candidates under a second term of President Joe Biden.
The ethics of Justice Clarence Thomas are now seen to be easy and sleazy. In the unlikely event he is forced to resign in disgrace from the Supreme Court of the United States, Thomas could no doubt find work as a college professor right here in Michigan.
And his potential court replacement might provoke hope — and change. The Thomas landing school would be Hillsdale College and the new justice would be Barack Obama. Sure, that’s a far-fetched parlay. But it is not out of the question in an era of political upheaval and culture war.
Recent revelations by ProPublica show how gifts, graft, and grift flowed freely to the pompous Thomas and to his busy wife, Ginni. Some of her allegedly legitimate money got laundered with cryptic notes like “No mention of Ginni, of course” as the paperwork gathered fingerprints.
She and her haughty husband took expensive vacations on the luxury yacht of a billionaire friend, a Texas wheeler-dealer named Harlan Crow, a collector of both Nazi memorabilia and powerful friends. Crow (no relation to Jim) gave the Thomases other gifts as well.
But fear not. Justice Thomas remains venerated at Hillsdale, Michigan’s influential right-wing incubator for white, Christian nationalism. Just ask Larry Arnn, the president of Hillsdale, who defiantly defended Thomas on a recent podcast with Hugh Hewitt.
“I just adore that man,” Arnn said of Thomas. “I often say he is the greatest man I ever met. I did get to know him before he became famous ... I’m sort of in awe of him ... I do admire him.”
While downplaying the frequency of recent interactions, Arnn couldn’t help but gush about their long-term friendship. After all, Ginni Thomas once worked for Hillsdale as a member of the board of trustees and a booker of Hillsdale speakers.
One speaker was her husband, for a 2016 graduation speech at Hillsdale, near the borders of Ohio and Indiana.
“It has been some years since my wife, Virginia, and I have been to Hillsdale together,” Thomas said then. “Of course, we have known Dr. and Mrs. Arnn for many, many years. And we have been quite close to Hillsdale.”
Evoking the Bible and Ronald Reagan, he called Hillsdale a “shining city on a hill.” During the administration of former President Donald Trump, the reactionary Thomas was joined on the bench by fellow zealots Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett.
All three were pushed by the Federalist Society, whose leader, Leonard Leo, directed consulting fees to the business of Ginni Thomas through Kellyanne Conway, a top aide to Trump, according to the Washington Post.
In one of the few true things Trump has ever said, he had vowed to appoint conservative and originalist justices who would overturn a woman’s Constitutional right to choose abortion.
He did just that, and so did they. And Thomas has hinted further at attacking gay rights as well, even as the Court’s public approval ratings drop to historic lows.
That decline is due to Trump and the Federalists packing the Court with wealth-protectors, gun groomers, and religious fundamentalists out of sync with popular opinion. So some progressives urge expansion from its current nine seats to 11, 13, or 15.
Even Arnn seems to agree that this is the long-view strategy of liberals and Democrats in Congress. It’s just that he’s against it. The recent exposures of his pal Thomas, he said, are a disguised backlash against the entire Court for its abortion ruling.
“What they’re doing right now is reducing the credibility of the Court,” Arnn said, “so that it will become plausible that they could change the number on the court. And that’s a long game. They might not be able to do that for two whole years. But that’s the plan. And, why? Because somebody said ‘No’ to them.”
Should Thomas resign — or should Congress expand the Court — Obama would be one of the logical candidates under a second term of President Joe Biden. Like Trump, Obama is a former president. Unlike Trump, Obama is Black, a Constitutional scholar, and a wise person.
During his 2020 campaign, Biden dropped hints about expanding the court and even appointing Obama; but he made no guarantees.
There is precedent (that’s a SCOTUS word!) for a former Chief Executive on the Court. After William Howard Taft’s four years in the White House ended in 1913, he was appointed Chief Justice in 1921 by President Warren Harding. Taft served until he died in 1930.
In his re-election campaign next year, Biden would have to be cagey about promising too much. But with abortion and gun safety likely to be major issues, Biden might benefit from Obama as a background presence.
Certainly Arnn and Hillsdale have benefitted from their connections to the Court. Online, the school brags that three graduates served as clerks in the previous term when Thomas and cronies overruled Roe v. Wade. One Hillsdale clerk worked for Thomas. What a coincidence.
A recent New Yorker article reported that some of Trump’s White House speechwriters were Hillsdale graduates. In the same story, Arnn assessed Black students from Detroit once recruited to his almost all-white campus about two hours west of the Motor City.
“It’s on my list of dumb things I’ve done from which I’ve learned,” he said. “They weren’t ready to come here. They hadn’t done any preparations. They thought it was a magical place.”
Among those who still consider it magical are former Vice-President Mike Pence and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Both potential Republican presidential candidates recently spoke at Hillsdale and DeSantis cozied up to Arnn on Arnn’s podcast, The Larry P. Arnn Show.
Can Trump be far behind? Arnn helped boost Trump with right-wing scholars in 2016. They stayed allied. In the Hewitt podcast, both men floated the idea of a Presidential debate at Hillsdale.
Don’t rule that out. It is ironic and perhaps just a coincidence that a slick, national Republican power broker like Arnn would operate in a state where the local party resembles a Three Stooges film festival. But Arnn is no local yokel.
He scratches backs nationally and they scratch him back. He is a potent ingredient in the steaming, bubbling, right-wing stew that mixes education, law, politics, money, religion, and media. Keep an eye on Larry Arnn — and on Justice Thomas, too.
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