Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas – Possible Ethics Violations!

Dear Commons Community,

Twenty congressional Democrats have sent a letter to the Secretary of the  Judicial Conference of the United States formally asking for an investigation into Justice Clarence Thomas’ failure to disclose outside income.   The letter (see below) states that:

“Throughout his entire tenure on the Supreme Court, Justice Thomas checked a box titled “none” on his annual financial disclosure forms, indicating that his wife had received no income, despite the fact that his wife had in fact earned nearly $700,000 from the Heritage Foundation from 2003-2007 alone.”

The Heritage Foundation is a conservative think tank funded extensively by the Coors and Scaife family foundations.

The letter goes on to say:

“…as questions surrounding the integrity and fairness of the Supreme Court continue to grow, it is vital that the Judicial Conference actively pursue any suspicious actions by Supreme Court Justices. While we continue to advocate for the creation of binding ethical standards for the Supreme Court, it is important the Judicial Conference exercise its current powers to ensure that Supreme Court Justices are held accountable to the current law.”

It will be most interesting to see how this plays our over the next year especially since President Obama has recently asked the Supreme Court to hear cases involving the constitutionality of his health care reform bill.




September 29, 2011

James C. Duff
Secretary to the Judicial Conference of the United States
Administrative Office of the United States Courts, Suite 2-301
One Columbus Circle, N.E.
Washington, DC 20544

Dear Mr. Duff:

Widespread reporting, including a recent report in The New York Times titled “Friendship of Justice and Magnate Puts Focus on Ethics,” raise grave concerns about the failure of Justice Clarence Thomas to meet various disclosure requirements under the Ethics in Government Act of 1978. Based upon the multiple public reports, Justice Thomas’s actions may constitute a willful failure to disclose, which would warrant a referral by the Judicial Conference to the Department of Justice, so that appropriate civil or criminal actions can be taken.

Due to the simplicity of the disclosure requirements, along with Justice Thomas’s high level of legal training and experience, it is reasonable to infer that his failure to disclose his wife’s income for two decades was willful, and the Judicial Conference has a non-discretionary duty to refer this case to the Department of Justice.

Throughout his entire tenure on the Supreme Court, Justice Thomas checked a box titled “none” on his annual financial disclosure forms, indicating that his wife had received no income, despite the fact that his wife had in fact earned nearly $700,000 from the Heritage Foundation from 2003-2007 alone.

Furthermore, an investigation conducted by The New York Times has revealed that Justice Thomas may have, on several occasions, benefited from use of a private yacht and airplane owned by Harlan Crowe, and again failed to disclose this travel as a gift or travel reimbursement on his federal disclosure forms as required by the Ethics in Government Act of 1978.

Justice Thomas’s failure to disclose his wife’s income for his entire tenure on the federal bench and indications that he may have failed to file additional disclosure regarding his travels require the Judicial Conference to refer this matter to the Department of Justice.

Section 104(b) of the Ethics Act requires the Judicial Conference to refer to the Attorney General of the United States any judge who the Conference “has reasonable cause to believe has willfully failed to file a report or has willfully falsified or willfully failed to file information required to be reported.” If the Judicial Conference finds reasonable cause to believe that Justice Thomas has “willfully falsified or willfully failed to file information to be reported,” it must, pursuant to §104, refer the case to the Attorney General for further determination of possible criminal or civil legal sanctions.

Particularly as questions surrounding the integrity and fairness of the Supreme Court continue to grow, it is vital that the Judicial Conference actively pursue any suspicious actions by Supreme Court Justices. While we continue to advocate for the creation of binding ethical standards for the Supreme Court, it is important the Judicial Conference exercise its current powers to ensure that Supreme Court Justices are held accountable to the current law.

As a result, we respectfully request that the Judicial Conference follow the law and refer the matter of Justice Thomas’s non-compliance with the Ethics in Government Act to the Department of Justice. We eagerly await your reply.


Rep. Louise Slaughter
Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr
Rep. Gwen Moore
Rep. Mike Honda
Rep. Earl Blumenauer
Rep. Christopher Murphy
Rep. John Garamendi
Rep. Pete Stark
Rep. Raul Grijalva
Rep. John Olver
Rep. Jan Schakowsky
Rep. Donna Edwards
Rep. Jackie Speier
Rep. Paul Tonko
Rep. Bob Filner
Rep. Peter Welch
Rep. John Conyers
Rep. Keith Ellison
Rep. Anna Eshoo
Rep. Ed Perlmutter


Defending Public Higher Education – Conference

Dear Commons Community,

Over the course of the past three decades investment in public higher education has declined dramatically. Most American public university systems, such as California, Wisconsin, and Illinois, have experienced serious reductions in their state funding requiring dramatic cutbacks in academic programs and services they provide to their students.

Here at the City University of New York (CUNY), we have gone from a tuition-free system as late as 1976 to one that receives over 45% of its operating budget from student fees and tuition. During this same time, the faculty workforce has been completely transformed. In the past almost all of the courses were taught by full time faculty. Today over 50% of all courses are taught by adjunct faculty. Academic and student support services such as library, financial aid, and counseling have had serious staff reductions. Simultaneously, CUNY enrollments are at an all-time high. In the past ten years, the number of CUNY students has risen from 210,000 to 267,000, the equivalent of three new colleges, but with no commensurate increase in full time faculty or support staff. In the midst of these greater demands and a reduced full time work force, CUNY has lost 330 million dollars, or 15%, of its state funding over the past three years. Finally, present plans are to further privatize or shift the cost of financing CUNY from the state to students. Tuition has increased dramatically over the past decade and an additional $300/year for CUNY students in each of the next five years has just been included in the NY State budget. This regimen of tuition increases is an invisible tax on a student body that is disproportionately poor, 38% of our students’ family income is less than $20,000.

What can we do to reverse these trends? This question has caused a number of faculty and staff at the CUNY Graduate Center to organize this conference around the following questions:
1. What is happening to public higher education across the country and what explains these trends?
2. What is the situation at CUNY presently and what can we expect in the immediate future from state and local policy makers?
3. How can faculty, staff and students begin to turn around these policies of disinvestment in order to provide quality education for all?

Please join us for a day of collective thinking about the challenges facing public higher education. Turn this time of disinvestment into an opportunity to think strategically about mounting a defense of this precious resource, the City University of New York.

The conference is free but we do ask that you register.  For more information, visit the conference website.


Dead Sea Scrolls Go Online!

Dear Commons Community,

The Huffington Post is reporting that some of the world-famous Dead Sea Scrolls went online for the first time yesterday in a project launched by Israel’s national museum and Google.

For those not familiar with the origin of these scrolls, they are considered by many to be the most significant archaeological find of the 20th century.  They are thought to have been written or collected by an ascetic Jewish sect (the Essenes) that fled Jerusalem for the desert 2,000 years ago and settled at Qumran, on the banks of the Dead Sea.  The hundreds of manuscripts that survived, partially or in full, in caves near the site, have shed light on the development of the Hebrew Bible and the origins of Christianity.  It has been speculated that Jesus Christ was familiar with the teachings of the Essenes.

The scrolls include the biblical Book of Isaiah, the manuscript known as the Temple Scroll, and three others. Visitors to the website can search high-resolution images of the scrolls for specific passages, zoom in and out, and translate verses into English.   The Antiquities Authority project is tentatively set to be completed by 2016, at which point nearly all of the scrolls will be available on the Internet.

A video explaining the project is available below.



New Haven’s Teacher Improvement Plan: NY Times Editorial

Dear Commons Community,

A NY Times editorial is praising New Haven’s new teacher improvement plan.    Political leaders and teachers’ union took a bold step last year in agreeing to a new teacher evaluation system that aims to reward excellent teaching and to retrain or remove poor performers. The first year’s promising results show what can be done when the two sides commit to reform.  Perhaps the most important comment was:

“New Haven’s path demonstrates that it is possible to hold teachers accountable without crushing morale and wrongfully dismissing good teachers.”

In the first year of the new evaluation system, of the 1,846 teachers rated, 75 were notified early in the 2010 school year that they were in danger of being terminated. Of those, 34 resigned or retired without contesting their final evaluations. Fifteen teachers, considered borderline cases, were given more time to improve and allowed to keep their jobs.

New Haven appears to be providing a plan for other urban districts considering new teacher evaluation systems and one that has been implemented without the rancor and teacher bashing that have characterized similar attempts in other large cities.



Republican Primary Florida Straw Poll: Cain Wins!

Dear Commons Community,

There was much happening in the last couple of days with the Republican Primary.  Most significant was the win by Herman Cain yesterday  in the Florida Straw Poll.   Cain, the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, was the surprise winner.   The results were as follows:

Herman Cain: 37.11%
Rick Perry: 15.43%
Mitt Romney: 14.00%
Rick Santorum: 10.88%
Ron Paul: 10.39%
Newt Gingrich: 8.43%
Jon Huntsman: 2.26%
Michele Bachmann: 1.51%

It is hard to judge how much these straw polls mean but without a doubt, Cain’s showing has to be considered a problem for the front-runners especially Rick Perry.   Even though she did not campaign in this poll, Michelle Bachmann has to face the reality that her candidacy is in serious trouble.



Wall Street Turns Violent: Female Protesters Penned and Pepper-Sprayed by NYC Police!

Dear Commons Community,

WNYC reported that what was a peaceful protest turned violent yesterday.  Dozens were arrested mostly  for disorderly conduct, obstructing vehicular and pedestrian traffic, resisting arrest and, in one case, assaulting a police officer, the police said.  Female protesters were penned and pepper-sprayed by NYC police.

See youtube video below!




Morgan Freeman Brands the Tea Party as Rooted in Racism!

Dear Commons Community,

In an interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan last night, the Oscar-winning actor, Morgan Freeman discussed his belief that the right wing Tea Party’s anti-Obama stance is rooted in racism.

When asked by Morgan whether Obama’s presidency has made racism in the United States better or worse, Freeman, stated that his [Obama’s] time in office has made it worse, as he has become a target of the right’s aggression.

“Their [the Tea party] stated policy…is to do whatever it takes to see to it that Obama only serves one term… screw the country…we’re going to do whatever we can to get this black man outta here.”

Freeman said the group’s rise has shown that hate still lingers in America.

Freeman has taken a very powerful public stance that will likely be discussed by the media and talk show pundits in the coming days.

The NY Daily News has an article and brief video of Freeman’s comments at:



Republican Candidates Debate – Again and Again!

Dear Commons Community,

Last night Fox News hosted another debate among the Republican presidential hopefuls.  I was only able to catch the tail end because I had a late class.  However, after reviewing videos on youtube and reading several news accounts, it appears to have been a worthwhile watch for those interested in presidential primaries.  Rick Perry and Mitt Romney went at each other again with the Huffington Post declaring Romney the winner in their exchanges.   Michelle Bachman was asked to explain her comments after the last debate about the adverse effects from the human papilloma virus vaccine.  By issuing an executive order, she again claimed that Perry was catering to Merck, the pharmaceutical company that provided the vaccine and was a donor to his past campaigns.   Rick Santorum scored points by attacking Perry for supporting in-state tuition rates for children of illegal immigrants.  Perry made an awkward remark when asked about a potential vice presidential candidate and responded that he would take former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain and “mate him up” with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga).

One disturbing moment was when Fox News played a video of a gay soldier serving in Iraq asking what as president did the candidates intend to do as a matter of policy for gays and lesbians serving in the military.   A number of people in the audience starting booing this soldier. (see video below)

The Huffington Post has a good summary of the debate.



Troy Davis Executed by Lethal Injection!

Dear Commons Community,

The Huffington Post reported that Troy Davis, convicted of murdering an off-duty Savannah police officer more than 20 years ago, was strapped to a gurney in a prison in Jackson, Georgia last night.  The first injection began at 10:54 p.m. and Davis was declared dead at 11:08 p.m. Afterward, Davis’ attorneys and legal advocates quickly decried the execution as a terrible miscarriage of justice.  Davis stated that he had not carried a gun the night of the murder and did not shoot the officer, Mark MacPhail, in a fast food restaurant parking lot on an August night in 1989.  Speaking directly to MacPhail’s brother and son, who witnessed the execution, Davis beseeched them to continue to examine the events that night. “All I can ask is that you look deep into this case so you can really find the truth,” he said.  Davis then addressed prison officials preparing to inject him with a lethal mix of chemicals. “May God have mercy on your souls,” he said.

“Troy Davis has become an incredible symbol of everything that is broken, everything that is wrong” with the capital punishment in the U.S., said Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International’s U.S. branch, in an interview on the prison grounds.”

Joan MacPhail-Harris, the officer’s widow, in speaking for the family, said earlier that Davis “has had ample time to prove his innocence” and failed to do so, according to the Associated Press. She, along with MacPhail’s children, urged the pardon’s board to deny Davis’ petition for clemency this week.

This is a most sad story with grief spread for all involved.