Justice Thomas and the Chevron (Un)Defense

One of the sort-of defenses of Crow Holdings LLC attorney and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ inappropriate financial relationships with billionaire Harlan Crow is that Thomas believed this crapola anyway. Well, hold your horses, Sparky, because it appears Thomas went on a well-funded journey of self-discovery (boldface mine):

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas changed his position on one of America’s most significant regulatory doctrines after his wife reportedly accepted secret payments from a shadowy conservative network pushing for the change. Thomas’ shift also came while he was receiving lavish gifts from a billionaire linked to other groups criticizing the same doctrine — which is now headed back to the high court.

The so-called “Chevron deference” doctrine stipulates that the executive branch — not the federal courts — has the power to interpret laws passed by Congress in certain circumstances. Conservatives for years have fought to overturn the doctrine, a move that would empower legal challenges to federal agency regulations on everything from climate policy to workplace safety to overtime pay.

Thomas wrote a landmark Supreme Court opinion upholding the doctrine in 2005, but began questioning it a decade later, before eventually renouncing his past opinion in 2020 and claiming that the doctrine itself might be unconstitutional. Now, Thomas could help overturn the doctrine in a new case the high court just agreed to hear next term.

Groups within the conservative legal movement funded by Leonard Leo’s dark money network and affiliated with Thomas’ billionaire benefactor Harlan Crow have organized a concerted effort in recent years to overturn Chevron. That campaign unfolded as they delivered gifts and cash to Thomas and his family in the lead-up to his shift on the doctrine.

In 2010, Crow bankrolled a dark money group led by Thomas’ wife, Ginni, that paid her $120,000. Leo was on the group’s board of directors. In 2012, Leo’s dark money network steered undisclosed consulting payments to Thomas’s wife. The Leo network has funded Republican politicians and several nonprofits pressing the Supreme Court to overturn the Chevron doctrine next term.

The article has all the sordid–and they are sordid and corrupt–details, but the key point is this: even if this truly was an honest change of heart by Thomas, independent of any outside influence, there is no way to know this is what happened. To put this another way, if Thomas did change his mind due to undue influence, would things appear any differently.

Shame on Thomas, and shame on the other eight justices–including the Democratic appointees–for defending him.

Investigate Thomas, and enlarge the Court.

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