SILENT CAL

Posted in Quick Hits on February 23rd, 2011 by Ed

Since the Wisconsin budget "repair" bill stuff from Monday and Tuesday is still getting a lot of attention I'm going to be more succinct than usual today. The amount of attention Monday's post has gotten is equal parts rewarding and disturbing. I can't believe I'm the only person who bothered to, you know, open a copy of Walker's bill and read it. Not exactly Woodward and Bernstein stuff here.

Speaking of the fundamentals of journalism, CNN saw fit to commemorate Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas' record five years of silence during oral arguments in the most cloying way possible given the limitations of existing technology. None of the 112 men and women who have served on the highest court have managed to go a single one-year term without asking a question, yet Silent Cal (with respect to the original) has managed to do it five times consecutively.

This type of story has appeared in the mainstream media several times in the past few years, inevitably focusing on the same basic folksy themes – Thomas' silence as an artifact of his humility, intellectual seriousness, childhood racial abuse, growing up with English as a second language, and so on. Journalistic treatments of his judicial Persistent Vegetative State always tactfully avoid raising the possibility that Thomas has no judicial philosophy beyond "What Anton said" and that upon appointment he was expected to do little more than sit there, shut up, and vote as ordered.

On the topic of not-so-folksy themes that didn't find their way into this piece, Congress sure doesn't seem very interested in the revelation that Thomas lied on his tax returns – for nineteen years – to hide his wife's six-figure income from conservative interest groups like the Heritage Foundation. Or failing to recuse himself from the Citizens United case even though his wife's lobbying firm has extensive connections to Citizens United and other right-wing interest groups.

Then again, I see no reason why his wife getting paid (handsomely) to lobby against campaign finance laws would compromise Mr. Thomas' judgment on a pivotal case. He'd have to think about the case and possibly even form an opinion about it before any compromising could occur.