Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.
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A bombshell exposé by an award-winning investigative journalist takes a deep look into lobbyist and far right wing activist and conspiracy theorist Ginni Thomas, and the ties she has to people, groups – and money – that have or may have business before the U.S. Supreme Court, on which her conservative husband sits.
“Is Ginni Thomas a Threat to the Supreme Court?” The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer asks point-blank. “Behind closed doors, Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife is working with many groups directly involved in controversial cases before the Court.”
Mayer writes that “Ginni Thomas has declared that America is in existential danger because of the ‘deep state’ and the ‘fascist left,’ which includes ‘transsexual fascists.'”
But that’s just a small piece of her massive reporting.
“Ginni Thomas’s political activism has caused controversy for years. For the most part, it has been dismissed as the harmless action of an independent spouse. But now the Court appears likely to secure victories for her allies in a number of highly polarizing cases—on abortion, affirmative action, and gun rights,” Mayer reveals.
How bad and how close are these ties? Thomas, unbeknownst to almost anyone, was “an undisclosed paid consultant at the conservative pressure group the Center for Security Policy, when its founder, Frank Gaffney, submitted an amicus brief to the Court supporting Trump’s Muslim travel ban.”
Did Justice Clarence Thomas know? Did the couple discuss the case, or her financial and political ties? No one knows.
And that’s just one example. Mayer notes that Ginni Thomas “has held leadership positions at conservative pressure groups that have either been involved in cases before the [Supreme] Court or have had members engaged in such cases.”
“In 2019, she announced a political project called Crowdsourcers, and said that one of her four partners would be the founder of Project Veritas, James O’Keefe. Project Veritas tries to embarrass progressives by making secret videos of them, and last year petitioned the Court to enjoin Massachusetts from enforcing a state law that bans the surreptitious taping of public officials.
Another partner in Crowdsourcers, Ginni Thomas said in her announcement, was Cleta Mitchell, the chairman of the Public Interest Legal Foundation, a conservative election-law nonprofit. It, too, has had business before the Court, filing amicus briefs in cases centering on the democratic process. Thomas also currently serves on the advisory board of the National Association of Scholars, a group promoting conservative values in academia, which has filed an amicus brief before the Court in a potentially groundbreaking affirmative-action lawsuit against Harvard.”
Should Americans be concerned? Should Justice Thomas? Should Chief Justice John Roberts?
“If Ginni Thomas is intimately involved—financially or ideologically tied to the litigant—that strikes me as slicing the baloney a little thin,” David Luban, a professor of law and philosophy at Georgetown, who specializes in legal ethics, tells Mayer.Surely Justice Thomas has the ability to separate his work and home life, right?
“Even before” Clarence Thomas’ controversial and contentious confirmation hearing, which included the accusations – labeled “credible” by many – from Anita Hill, “a friend told the Washington Post, the couple was so bonded that ‘the one person [Clarence] really listens to is Virginia.'”
In 2019 then-Congressman Mark Meadows, who because White House Chief of Staff to President Donald Trump and now appears to have been intimately involved in aspects of the January 6 insurrection, told members of a “nonprofit that mobilizes conservative evangelical voters” that “Ginni was talking about how we ‘team up,’ and we actually have teamed up. And I’m going to give you something you won’t hear anywhere else—we worked through the first five days of the impeachment hearings.”
Mayer adds, “Ginni Thomas has her own links to the January 6th insurrection.”
The nearly 7000 word deep dive can be read here.
Reprinted with permission from AlterNet
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Judge Alexis G. Krot shouted at Burhan Chowdhury, a 72 year old cancer patient whom local police cited for not maintaining his yard. “If I could give you jail time on this I would,” the Michigan jurist warned Chowdhury.
A cancer diagnosis doesn’t buy much more leniency in other courtrooms. In 2020, a judge in Pennsylvania sentenced Ashley Menser, a 36 year old in need of a hysterectomy for ovarian and cervical cancer, to a 10 month term.
Chowdhury and Menser lucked out in that one didn’t lose his freedom and the other survived her prison bid.
But William Lamprecht wasn’t as fortunate. Sentenced to four months incarceration last September for his second DUI conviction (an incident where no one was hurt), Lamprecht took the drug Truxima for his cancer — follicular lymphoma. His treatment suppressed his immune system. Lamprecht contracted the coronavirus while in custody and died before he could go home.
Qualified immunity has taken the spotlight in discussions of police’s use deadly force but judicial immunity enables just as much lethality. For me, it doesn’t matter if someone dies at one end of a barrel of a gun or the barrel of a pen — if the person at the other end knows the risk of death, they’re committing a homicide.
Judicial immunity is a form of absolute immunity that originated in early seventeenth-century England in two cases heard in the infamous Star Chamber. The Star Chamber was a secret court that administered justice directly and arbitrarily. It was so abusive that the phrase “Star Chamber” has become a pejorative in jurisprudence and popular culture and yet the United States still embraces one of its rules.
The doctrine of judicial immunity wasn’t totally without merit; it assured that judgments would be final (because suing a judge could get him to change his mind in a case) and established judicial independence.
But the way it's evolved over the centuries, judicial immunity licenses judges to commit involuntary manslaughter and avoid any consequence — civil or criminal.
That’s an extreme statement but the elements of the crime of involuntary manslaughter — sometimes called negligent manslaughter — check out. Involuntary manslaughter happens when a perpetrator is aware of a risk of death associated with a certain decision but makes it anyway. Two years into the global crisis, the heightened risk of COVID in congregate living situations like prisons and to cancer patients — even ones in remission — has been established. Judges are aware. And they act anyway.
The pandemic put even more blood on judges’ hands. According to an analysis of new Bureau of Justice Statistics data published January 11 by criminal justice think tank the Prison Policy Initiative, the number of deaths rose 46 percent in prisons from 2019 to 2020 (jail deaths in 2020 have not yet been reported), increasing the likelihood that any sentence can become deadly.
A retired trial judge, one who wishes to remain anonymous, said in an email that judges know that they risk death to defendants when they sentence them. They simply “compartmentalize” that information and “stick to the law.”
Litigants implore judges to do just that, follow the law. But in so doing, they provide cover for these bad decisions; judges cite the fact that they’re only obeying a statute when they sentence defendants to death for non-capital crimes.
Connecticut Superior Court Judge Christopher Pelosi, the judge who sentenced Lamprecht, said during the proceeding that a mandatory minimum sentence tied his hands but that’s only partially true. Connecticut law placed the decision to postpone the sentencing hearing until the pandemic came more under control squarely within Pelosi’s discretion. He chose not to exercise it.
That’s rare. The usual avenue for judicial accountability is elections; constituents can yank janky judges by voting them out. That solution is limited though; trial court judges are elected in 20 states; the remaining 30 states have other procedures. Voters casting ballots for judges don’t know much about the candidates; sometimes they leave that part of the ballot blank when they vote in other races.
Modifying the doctrine of judicial immunity to allow civil liability for wrongful death of those in-custody deaths of people they sentenced might give judges some pause before they bang the gavel and sign the mittimus.
That people coming before these judges are both accused and guilty of breaking the law shouldn’t be part of the analysis here. Look at the offenses in these three cases: substandard gardening, shoplifting (Mesner did have what prosecutors called an “extensive prior criminal record”) and driving under the influence. Violations? Yes. Suicide? No.
To be clear, Judge Krot’s threat against the elderly respondent before her is just a part of the problem. Much of Chowdhury’s case typifies the perfidy of modern courts; having to attend a virtual court proceeding over a minor infraction is a common setup. Police issue summons and require a court date to resolve them and then the summoned party forgets the court date and is charged with failure to appear, a crime. People associate the unrest in Missouri in 2015 with the death of Michael Brown but much of that ire was fueled by the Ferguson Municipal courts issuance of 32,975 warrants like this in 2013. In a city of 21,135 people that amounted to 1.5 warrants per person.
Even though Judge Krot fined Chowdhury $100, there’s little financial incentive for these proceedings in Michigan; blight tickets don’t generate much fine revenue in the state.
It would be bad enough if fine revenue was the justification for Krot’s craziness.
But that the judge was just itching to incarcerate this cancer patient — an act that very easily could have precipitated his death — solely because she thinks his yard was messy shows how easy it is to kill people under color of law.
Chandra Bozelko did time in a maximum-security facility in Connecticut. While inside she became the first incarcerated person with a regular byline in a publication outside of the facility. Her “Prison Diaries" column ran in The New Haven Independent, and she later established a blog under the same name that earned several professional awards. She is now a weekly columnist for The National Memo.