Tennessee, Clarence Thomas And The Corruption Of American Democracy

Question: What do Clarence Thomas and the Republican legislators in Tennessee have in common?  Answer: They both epitomize the corruption of American democracy–a corruption that has led to a precipitous decline in public confidence in America’s governing institutions.

Several media outlets have reported on recent polling from Gallup that shows trust in the judicial branch at record lows. Only 47 percent of Americans have “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of trust in the federal judiciary– a drop of 20 percentage points from two years earlier. When asked about the Supreme Court, it was worse:  58 percent disapproved of the high court’s performance.

Those numbers are unlikely to improve following the most recent disclosures about  Justice Thomas and his “dear friend” Harlan Crowe. The initial revelations about Thomas’ acceptance of luxurious trips were stunning enough, but the Justice’s argument that he hadn’t needed to report them since they were just “hospitality”–while unconvincing–left him some rhetorical wiggle-room.

The latest revelations don’t.

This time, Thomas directly received money from Crow — perhaps in excess of the market value of the Chatham County, Ga., properties that Crow purchased from Thomas and his kin. This is no longer about receiving “personal hospitality.” It’s about a financial transaction between Thomas and a GOP donor who has also subsidized his vacations.

There is no doubt that the sale of personal real estate to Crow should have been reported on the justice’s financial disclosure form for 2014, and there is no excuse for failing to do so. The most logical explanation is that Thomas, whose relationship with Crow had already been the subject of unflattering news reports, wanted to keep it from public view.

The linked article also notes  that Thomas has failed to report his wife’s considerable income from Rightwing organizations–although the law clearly requires  that income to be reported.

Inescapable bottom line: Clarence Thomas is corrupt, and his judicial decisions are compromised.

Then there is the emerging information about the Tennessee legislature–information that probably would not have been uncovered or widely disseminated had that body not over-reacted to a breach of House decorum by expelling two young Black Democrats.

Democracy Docket has taken a deeper dive into that gerrymandered legislature’s  disdain for representative democracy. Tennessee, like Indiana, has a Republican super-majority–courtesy of gerrymandering–that routinely acts to disempower state Democrats.

Some examples:

Tennessee’s Democratic cities have come under a coordinated attack from lawmakers. In March, Gov. Bill Lee (R) signed a law that forces the Nashville Metro Council to reduce its membership by half. Two lawsuits were filed challenging the law and on April 10, a Tennessee court temporarily blocked portions of the law while litigation continues.

After the expulsion of Pearson, GOP legislators threatened to withdraw funding from important projects in Memphis’ Shelby County if Pearson was reappointed.

In the latest round of redistricting, the Legislature divided Davidson County, home to Nashville, into three separate districts, dismantling the city’s Democratic-held seat. The lawmakers also approved state legislative districts that entrenched Republican supermajorities in both chambers of the Legislature. (Notably, the recent expulsions were only possible because of GOP supermajority control.)

Tennessee denies voting rights to over 470,000 citizens with one of the strictest (and most complicated) felony disenfranchisement laws in the United States. The state disenfranchises 21% of its Black voting-age population, the highest percentage in the country.

Tennessee has restrictive voting laws, leading to a low democracy tally by the Movement Advancement Project. Instead of improving voting access, the Legislature’s priorities have included laws requiring state and local officials to consult with the legislative leadership before changing certain state election laws and prohibiting election offices from accepting any private grant for election administration.

And we wonder why Americans no longer trust our political institutions…why so many of us have moved from skepticism to cynicism.

Political trust is generally described as citizens’ confidence in their political institutions. As political scientists repeatedly warn, that trust is an important component and indicator of political legitimacy; its erosion is not something to be taken lightly.

As I used to tell my students, an enormous number of American laws depend upon voluntary compliance by citizens–everything from filing taxes to obeying traffic signals. The ability of the authorities to catch and punish scofflaws depends upon the fact that the rule-breakers are relatively few. When citizens no longer trust that those in power are following the rules, rising numbers of them will feel justified in breaking those rules as well.

And it’s all inter-related

A properly functioning Supreme Court would have outlawed the rampant gerrymandering that produced Tennessee’s –and other state’s–rogue legislature.

As NASA might put it: Houston, we have a problem.


  1. Gerrymandering allows the majority party to choose their 30,000 as stated in Article 1 of the Constitution; “The number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand,…”. This appears on the surface to be a simple division of areas determined by population numbers. This is no longer as easily determined as it was in early and mid-20th Century. Their problem is those among their 30,000 who cannot be weeded out directly by race or low-income levels, so voter suppression is vital to maintain their majority. Republicans are determined to move the country, state-by-state, back to those “good old days” and “…Corruption Of American Democracy.” is the only route to accomplish this. Sovereignty is their goal and using terms such as “conservative” and “evangelical” to disguise their goal is becoming more difficult to cover up due to Jim Jordan, Marjorie Taylor Greene and their Freedom Caucus who can’t keep their mouths shut. Let them rant on their nonsense and their threats using freedom of speech as a weapon, not a right.

    As for Clarence Thomas, who should never have been appointed to SCOTUS, he is not only using illegal tactics along with his wife to increase their personal wealth; he is the epitome of the proverbial man “you don’t want to run into in a dark alley”. He is scary looking as hell! I read a news item yesterday that one of his financial dealings with Crow was the sale of the home he and his mother owned for $133,000; Crow then invested thousands of dollars in renovation to the home and Thomas’ mother continues to live in the home they sold.

  2. JoAnn, why the hell did you write: “he is the epitome of the proverbial man “you don’t want to run into in a dark alley”. He is scary looking as hell! ” ??

    I think you owe all an explanation.

  3. JoAnn is right. Clarence Thomas should never have been appointed to the Supreme Court to begin with. He had no personal ethical standards then and he hasn’t gained any since. And news reports on the “gift taking” by other justices point to corruption on a large scale. Thomas claims that the reason he took the “gifts” was because there were no rules. NO RULES? He needed some rules to tell him what was ethical?
    What these news stories reveal is, however, much worse. We have NO national leadership that can rally the entire nation to throw the bums out. NO leadership to turn the country around from the hell we are heading into. NO national leader who can inspire us to re-dedicate ourselves to the ideals of our forefathers. All this and the devil waiting to run for president again.

  4. Terry; have you looked at the pictures of Clarence Thomas? Maybe being a man you see nothing to fear in his angry, hate-filled expressions. He IS scary looking as hell and that needs no explanation to anyone.

    Theresa; you are so right, we are dealing with the results of Republican’s poor choices for leaders in all three branches of government; Trump, McConnell, McCarthy and Thomas. McConnell may soon be gone due to his health but will his replacement be worse with the sitting choices in the Senate and the House? If Thomas can be removed, and he should be, we have a chance at improving balanced judicial decisions made at the highest level in this nation.

  5. You may forget that Thomas nomination to the court started off badly with allegations leaked from a FBI background check about sexual harassment charges from Anita Hill at a previous job.

    You also failed to mention that in 2004, a newspaper disclosed a slew of very expensive “gifts” from this very same donor, and Thomas response was to stop reporting the gifts!

    And the donor, Harlan Crow is just not a conservative do-gooder. He his a key player in helping move the US Judiciary sharply to the right with a deep history of political activism in shifting the direction of the US Judiciary.

    The stink of corruption is just oozing out on this one and with the Republican party’s current “the end justifies the means” and democracy be dammed attitude, I’m pretty sure nothing is going to happen unless there is seismic shift of voters.

  6. Clarence Thomas has proved again and again that he is above the law. He never should have received approval to be on the Supreme Court. Anita Hill’s accusation should have been believed. His misbehavior was ignored by men who most likely behaved in the same manner. His appointment to the Supreme Court in spite of his guilt gave his already extreme ego a green light to lie cheat and steal whenever he chooses to, knowing that no one would challenge him.

    The republicans chose to also ignore Kavanaugh’s bad behavior. The party that likes to claim they are all about law and order prove over and over that they actually prefer criminal behavior.

    The republicans have made it clear that law and order do not apply to their members of the supreme court, all other judicial branches, Congress, state governors and state legislatures.

    The whole bunch is despicable because they choose to remain silent rather than holding their own members accountable for breaking the very laws they create and enforce.

    Justice Roberts has chosen to remain silent and I imagine hopes this will all go away. I commend the investigative journalists who refuse to let this be swept under the rug and hope they keep putting pressure on Roberts until he feels forced to acknowledge that Thomas has broken the law multiple times and must be removed from his seat on the bench.

  7. The problem, as I see it, is that the founding fathers left too much in the ether, simply because they underestimated the power of the snake oil salesman. The greatest need after 2020 was codification of the norms we all took for granted. That still hasn’t happened and now we worry about the re-election of the abomination or of any of his mini-mes. If you thought it was bad last time, you won’t believe how much worse it will be when the snakes all get positions of power!

  8. Nobody is pure and perfect. Joe Biden was the deciding vote with regard to Clarence Thomas. And, let us not forget the tone used by Biden when he grilled Anita Hill. Judge Thomas was good enough for Joe Biden,Thomas should be good enough for you.

    Many men have been accused of sexual harassment (Clinton, and even Biden) so what ? Again,the man passed the litmus test via our current president. I’m betting Biden has a well refined BS detector.

  9. I think Anita Hill was believed way back then …. I just don’t think anyone, including President Biden, gave a damn!

  10. IOKIYR, it’s okay if you’re a republican.

    If a democrat does something wrong/illegal, they are removed. Al Franken, Andrew Weimer, and the other guy in NYC, are some examples. The republicans just make excuses and it needs to stop.

  11. Corruption and the mindless lust for power is coincident with the invention of economics. That’s a 7,000 year old problem that we have yet to solve. This “corruption” meme is an extension of tribalism and the cave man mindset that still operates human behavior today.

    The founders had NO idea that Justices would be so easily corrupted and that the political process would become such a fetid swamp. Don’t blame them for not using a crystal ball that we conveniently have for today’s misery.

    The Clarence Thomas situation began with the stupid nomination by the stupid George H.W. Bush. He brought us Karl Rove, Lee Atwater, Roger Ailes and Dick Armey, remember. Why? Well, to the stupid George H.W. Bush – who was RNC chairman at the time, it was all about winning. Governing? Well, that would come later… except it never did. These RNC actions began the meme: EVERYTHING REPUBLICANS TOUCH DIES.

    Roberts is just another gutless Federalist who will do NOTHING to sanction Thomas or force his ouster. Thomas will continue to stonewall this scandal and the Republicans will circle the wagons to protect his corruption – as they always do. Kavanaugh? If his “performance” at his confirmation wasn’t disgusting enough to dissuade rational, conscientious people from approving his nomination, we know we are lost.

    Let the Republicans whine about the court’s low approval ratings. They brought it on themselves. Is it too much to say that Republicans suck at everything EXCEPT corruption?

  12. Ian — Your “what about-isms” are an indication that you prefer to look the other way and excusify when it comes to certain despicable behaviors.

    “Many men have been accused of sexual harassment (Clinton, and even Biden) so what ?”

    SO WHAT????????????? Because men have gotten away with sexual harassment doesn’t mean it’s OK – that’s SO WHAT! Women have endured this behavior with the perpetrators getting NO consequences for centuries – that’s SO WHAT!! We are done with it – that’s SO WHAT!!

    Be grateful women are only protesting and not getting revenge!

    As for Thomas, he’s another being in the “basket of deplorables.” His buddy, Crow, has a signed copy of “Mein Kampf” in his Nazi memorabilia collection and a statue of Stalin in his garden as well as other dictators. They no doubt have interesting discussions about the value of democracy on their yacht vacations and have a good laugh. I wonder if Thomas has ever taken Crow on a vacation to the “Wal-Mart parking lot”? Ya think????

    Houston, the problem is we’re are FIRE!!

  13. No, just because Biden gave Thomas a pass, does not mean that Thomas has to be good enough for me, or anyone!
    He is the epitome of all that is wrong with politics in this country.
    Except for structural misogyny he’d never have made it to the court. It was GWB who nominated him, and that ought
    to have been bad enough. That was 1989, and unlike Thomas, who has proudly said “I ain’t evolving!” I suspect that
    Biden has done so since then.
    Tennessee is…not to be described nicely.

  14. Mitch, I could NOT agree more! Time has brought many changes in perceptions and, what was considered acceptable in 1989 is NOT acceptable now. Instead of looking for more reasons to blame Biden for everything wrong today….we need to look for ways to FIX it!

  15. Thank you Sheila- and all of you for your back-&-forth. If I were still teaching I’d ask students to read this as an example of rational conversation.

  16. Different situation – same principle – DT indicted: 1.) “Critically important – no one should be above the law” vs. 2.) “If they can ‘get him’ – one of the most powerful people in the world, what chance do/will I have?” – What is “corruption” to me and most of you – is – “understandable” and/or “justifiable” and/or “not true, because the FBI, Biden, the Democrats, the Hidden State or …” Powerful interests – with paid shills – allies who have money – play on Fears – organize over decades (Abe Fortas resigned upon the advice of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court – 1970’s – can anyone imagine – John Roberts doing similarly today???) Democratic Party politicians (also) are often controlled by campaign contributions – they focus upon “facts” – not emotions. The Dobbs decision woke up a lot of women! That impacted the 2022 elections. Will white men – ever wake up – and realize how we are manipulated – unless we make far more money than most of us make??? (Doubtful unfortunately). The famous words – about “they came for the Jews, but I wasn’t Jewish….” – are here now – and will increasingly be here. Are we angry enough – and motivated positively enough – those of us who are upper-middle class – to fight back more than tokenly – through coalition building – mutual support – building from the bottom up (we can’t build from the top down like they do). Will we ally ourself – with Black People, Queer Black Women, Trans – Gender Fluid People, Immigrants – I’m doing my best – however – I see far far more – people writing a little – than “doing the work”. “The work” – isn’t linear – it’s on a lot of issues – with a lot of people – locally and nationally.

  17. I think most people believed Anita Hill in 1989, including Biden. Looks like Thomas didn’t mind lying under oath denying the allegations and calling the proceedings a public lynching. Playing the race card at that level worked. My guess is that he will try that again?

  18. Republicans are building the case against Republicans. They thought DJT was their savior but their conversion to dead men walking by following him has revealed the true cost of him on earth.

    Now we’re stuck in a war between Trump and democracy, freedom, Constitutional government. It certainly is reminiscent of Putin’s War against Ukrainians and Xi’s potential war on Taiwanese.

    I’m optimistic about the human race’s ability to solve problems inflicted by other humans on, well, still other humans including by Putin and Trump, two peas in a pod.

    We got this!

  19. To Terry Franzman – I don’t think Joann owes and explanation to anybody. Her meaning is self evident.

  20. Ian, that’s a ridiculous argument. Biden was wrong (and awful, really, with regards to Thomas and Hill, and the other accuser who wasn’t even heard) back then. He wasn’t alone in being awful on this issue. Your argument that we should think it’s all great because it was BIden is incomprehensible. I don’t believe something is right or wrong depending on the person or the _party_ associated with the person; it just _is_ right or wrong.

    On Thomas, it’s noteworthy that he _was_ disclosing gifts (at least to some extent) until 2004 when The Times broke the story of this issue initially, and thereafter _stopped_ disclosing them.

    A judge should recuse themself if there is even an appearance of a conflict. Thomas doesn’t recuse even when there is a clear and obvious conflict.

    Ian, Thomas and Alito (and the other conservative judges, it seems) would completely understand your argument. To them, something is right or wrong depending who it benefits, not objectively based on the law and the issue. By their behaviours, they are deeply unethical and despicable.

  21. Lets just be honest and cut to the chase, Republicans are evil fucking fascists, racists and phony Christain bigots. The motherfuckers have used extreme gerrymandering to make many seats in Congress uncontestable and give many states Repugnant super majorities – like Indiana – when they are closer to 50-50 Dems and Repigs. I hate the evil bastards with the heat of a thousand suns. Fortunately my wife and I recently bought a lovely little casita in the mountains of Costa Rica where we will be living full time before the 2024 elections! This country is already screwed forever and I will NOT live with the insane right wing gun nuts any longer!

  22. The berry-patch language surely is not acceptable here. It’s awful. I am shocked. I hope that won’t happen again.

Comments are closed.