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What’s missing from the defense from Clarence Thomas’ GOP allies

The fact that Thomas’ most ardent GOP backers can’t think of anything substantive to say — even now, weeks into his latest ethics controversy — is amazing.


The latest ethics allegations surrounding Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas have the benefit of specificity. This isn’t a situation in which the far-right jurist’s critics are raising general concerns about his rulings, ideology or temperament; this is an intensifying controversy about well-documented incidents.

Recent reporting suggests that Thomas accepted decades’ worth of unreported gifts and luxury trips from Harlan Crow, a Republican megadonor and longtime Thomas benefactor. We’ve also learned that the real estate magnate bought property from the justice, which Thomas also failed to disclose, and which led to rent-free housing for Thomas’ mother. Crow also reportedly paid the private school tuition for a member of the justice’s family — generosity that the far-right jurist also neglected to disclose.

Most recently, it’s also come to light that a powerful judicial activist apparently arranged for a conservative nonprofit — which hoped to sway the Supreme Court about an important case — to secretly pay Thomas’ wife.

As the stories have unfolded, the conservative justice’s Republican allies have struggled to think of a cogent defense. Over the past few days, however, it seems some prominent GOP voices have decided to give up altogether on the very idea of a cogent defense, and are instead rallying behind Thomas with vague generalities and platitudes. The conservative Washington Times reported:

Former Vice President Mike Pence defended Justice Clarence Thomas in a Saturday twitter thread that blasted accusations of corruption and calls by some Democrats for his resignation from the high court. Mr. Pence, who is weighing a 2024 White House bid, said Justice Thomas has been “maliciously attacked by the left, including then Sen. Joe Biden,” since he was nominated to the Supreme Court in 1991.

The former vice president went on to say Americans should support Thomas because he’s a “good man and principled jurist.” He added that he considers the ethics allegations "appalling."

But the one thing missing from this argument was an argument. Does Pence take issue with any of the recent revelations? Has he found flaws in the reporting? Does he believe Thomas has been falsely accused?

It’s not that the former vice president answered these questions incorrectly, it’s that Pence didn’t bother to consider such questions at all. The Republican sees Thomas as a good guy and an ally — and that apparently should end the conversation.

It’s not just Pence. Sen. Mike Lee has invested quite a bit of time and energy in recent weeks celebrating Thomas and trying to rally support for the justice. To that end, the Utah Republican yesterday published a lengthy Twitter thread, insisting that Thomas is “decent,” well liked by people who know him, and not the kind of guy who does bad things.

Lee concluded that it “saddens” him to see Thomas “mistreated.”

But how is Thomas being “mistreated”? By telling the truth about his own actions and conduct?

The senator, among others, might very well consider Thomas a swell guy, but that’s not especially relevant right now. If Pence, Lee and the justice’s other Republican backers have anything to offer about the specific allegations surrounding the justice, now would be an excellent time to share such a defense.