Tag: clarence thomas
Another Day, Another Massacre: 18 Dead And 13 Wounded In Maine

Another Day, Another Massacre: 18 Dead And 13 Wounded In Maine

Dear readers, I ask you: how many of these stories have I written about mass shootings in my Substack column? I lost count some time ago and cannot remember the last one. Was it the shooting in Nashville, when a 28-year-old gunman killed three nine-year-old children and three adults at a private school affiliated with the Presbyterian Church using two AR-15 rifles, one of them configured as a pistol with a folding stock so it could be easily concealed? Or was it Uvalde, when 19 children and two adults were killed at the Robb Elementary School by an 18-year-old who had bought two AR-15 rifles soon after he reached the age when it is legal to buy such firearms in Texas?

I know I wrote about two more mass shootings in Texas, one at a private home in Cleveland, when five were killed by a shooter with an AR-15 rifle, and the other at an outlet mall in Allen, when a shooter killed eight and wounded seven using, once again, an AR-15 rifle.

And now I’m writing about last night’s mass-shooting in Lewiston, Maine. Robert Russel Card, age 40, is the man police suspect of killing seven people in a bowling alley and eight people in a bar and wounding 13, again using an AR-15 rifle. Three of the wounded died later in a hospital. He is described as a sergeant in the Army Reserves and a “trained firearms instructor.” He has not been captured by the police and is at large as I write this, described as armed and dangerous.

I think the first story I wrote about a mass killing was in 1998, about the school shooting in Jonesboro, Arkansas, when two boys, age 13 and 11, used rifles taken from the home of one of their grandfathers to kill four of their fellow students and a teacher, shooting at them from a hill overlooking the schoolyard when the kids were at recess. I wrote the story for the New York Times op-ed page. What astounded me about the shooting was the fact that both boys had been taken to so-called practical shooting courses by their parents, where participants were taught to shoot and move in a tactical military fashion using human silhouette targets.

At that time, it had been 30 years since I had fired a rifle on a shooting rage at a human silhouette target. I did it during marksmanship training at West Point, using first an M-14 and then an M-16, the military progenitor of the AR-15 rifle used by nearly every shooter in every mass shooting in recent years.

The M-14 was a big, unwieldy rifle with a wooden stock that weighed 10 and a half pounds when loaded with its 20-round magazine. The M-16, which the Army had begun using in Vietnam, was smaller, had a composite stock and a shorter barrel and weighed only seven and a half pounds and used a magazine carrying 30 rounds of ammunition. The M-14 fired a 7.62 mm bullet and had a sharp kick that would leave you with a bruise on your shoulder after a few hours of shooting it. The M-16 fired the much smaller 5.56 mm bullet and had almost no recoil at all. It was easier to carry, easier to shoot, and was just as accurate as the M-14 had been.

I’m telling you all this because every time I type “AR-15,” what I’m doing is using the designation for a weapon that was designed for and is still in use by the military for combat. It is, therefore, a machine invented and manufactured for killing human beings, which is what I was being trained to do when I first fired an M-16 at a human silhouette target at West Point in 1965.

Firearms training was a serious business. There was such a priority on safety that we initially fired the M-16 for most of a day using single bullets which we hand-loaded and fired on command by the range officer. Then we were issued magazines, which we loaded with 30 rounds of ammunition and fired with the fire selector set on single-shot for at least a couple of days. Later, we were taught to fire the M-16 with the selector set on three-round bursts and then full-automatic, enabling you to empty the magazine of all 30 rounds with a single pull of the trigger.

I used to get criticized by gun enthusiasts when I called an AR-15 rifle “military grade,” but their criticism was bullshit. The AR-15 is identical to an M-16 with only one difference: It does not have a selector switch enabling burst and full-auto fire. The AR-15s are manufactured for single-shot fire, but it is well known that many of them can be easily altered to fire on full-auto by purchasing a kit at a gun show or on the dark web. We don’t know if the gunman in Maine had altered his AR-15 to shoot on full-auto, but as an Army Reserve sergeant and a firearms instructor, he would certainly have the know-how to do it.

But it doesn’t matter whether the AR-15 used by the shooter in Maine had been illegally altered. Even in its legal form, the weapon is as deadly as they come. The bullet fired by the AR-15 is the same bullet fired by the Army’s M-4 carbine, the modern replacement for the M-16. It shoots with an extremely high muzzle velocity, and when the bullet hits the human body, it is designed to penetrate the skin and immediately tumble as it goes through the body, shredding muscles, bones, and organs. It is designed to kill, and last night, bullets fired from yet another AR-15 did just that in Maine.

It is madness that I am describing for the umpteenth time the AR-15 rifle, its military history, how deadly it is, and yes, how it has become ubiquitous. There are estimated to be more than 20 million of these terrible things in private hands in this country, and they are the weapon of choice for people who are looking to kill a lot of people very quickly. And yet, you can walk into a gun store in every state in the union but the ten that ban the sale of the AR-15 and buy one.

Wait. Make that nine states that ban the gun, because a federal judge in California last week ruled in a case involving the AR-15 that the state’s ban on sales of the weapon violates the Constitutional right to bear arms. That decision is on appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, but if upheld, would apply to the laws in all 10 states that ban sales of the gun.

The Supreme Court has upheld a law in Illinois banning the sale of the AR-15, but it did so temporarily on its so-called shadow docket, meaning a case involving the legality of the AR-15 for sale and ownership will eventually reach the Supreme Court and be heard on its merits. If the doctrine put forth by Justice Clarence Thomas in his Bruen decision holds – that gun laws today cannot differ materially from those in place in 1791 – well, we can already see which way the court will rule.

If the Supreme Court rules that because the Founders thought owning a flintlock musket was pretty cool, and that every American should have the right to buy, own, and shoot an AR-15, we will be seeing each other again in these online pages when yet another AR-15, or more likely, many AR-15s are used in more and more mass shootings.

It’s madness, sure, but it’s our madness because citizens of this country have elected the politicians who put the jurists on the court who make these things legal, and the same voters put the legislators in their seats who refuse to pass laws to make AR-15s illegal.

I pray that one day, my grandchildren will look back and wonder what their country was thinking when their grandfather and his generation allowed such deadly guns to be sold to anyone who wants one. The saddest thing is, right now, I don’t have an answer for them.

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

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Ginni And Clarence

How Ginni Thomas And Leonard Leo Used Dark Money To Build The Far Right

Politico’s Heidi Pryzybyla has new reporting that delves deep into the dark money network judicial activist Leonard Leo has constructed, shining a light on the most pernicious corner of it: his collusion with Supreme Court spouse Ginni Thomas.

There’s a lot of meat in this new report, but the timeline Pryzybyla lays out is the most instructive—and damning—evidence of Leo’s scheme to remake the judiciary and overturn long-standing legal precedents on abortion, affirmative action, and many other issues. He shows how he used Thomas as his “in” to the Supreme Court, turning the court into his tool with the billions he has amassed from anonymous donors. It also demonstrates the extent to which the Thomases are funded by the conservative network.

The timeline is critical, opening up potential new avenues of investigation for Congress and law enforcement. In September 2009, the court’s conservative majority decided to expand the scope of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, from determining whether the anti-Hillary Clinton documentary created by the nonprofit Citizens United violated campaign finance laws to whether they should use it to overturn previous decisions approving campaign finance laws. In November 2009, Cleta Mitchell—yes, Big Lie lawyer Cleta Mitchell—filed paperwork with the IRS to create a new nonprofit: Liberty Central Inc.

Liberty Central was the prototype organization created by the eventual Supreme Court decision, which was handed down in January 2010. It declared that corporations and nonprofits can spend unlimited amounts on political campaigns, using unlimited funds from unnamed donors: dark money.

In preparation for that decision, in December 2009 Ginni Thomas filed the paperwork incorporating Liberty Central in Virginia, with Leo as co-director. They had $500,000 in seed money from Harlan Crow, the megadonor who has also provided Clarence and Ginni Thomas with lavish gifts. The group had all the pieces in place to hit the ground running the minute the decision was handed down.

“Ginni really wanted to build an organization and be a movement leader,” one of Politico’s sources said. “Leonard [Leo] was going to be the conduit of that.” But Ginni Thomas proved to be a liability for the group, taking a far too public and political role. It came to a head in October, 2010 when Ginni Thomas made headlines with a telephone call to Anita Hill, demanding that Hill apologize for the sexual harassment allegations she raised against Clarence Thomas during his confirmation.

In November 2010, reports circulated that Ginni Thomas was going to step down from her leadership role, though Leo issued a denial. At the same time, Ginni Thomas sought and received expedited approval for incorporating a consulting business. That business was Liberty Consulting. Simultaneously, Leo reactivated one of his old organizations, the dormant Judicial Education Project. Leo then began using JEP to direct contracts to pay Ginni Thomas an amount similar to what she had earned at Liberty Central, which was as much as $100,000 between June 2011 and June 2012.

Earlier this year, the Washington Postreported that in January 2012, Leo ordered GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway to bill the JEP $25,000 and then use the funds to “give” Ginni Thomas “another $25K,” emphasizing that the paperwork should have “[n]o mention of Ginni, of course.”

Since 2010, the JEP has spent “at least $25 million” on grants and contracts, Politico reports. The full amount, and where and to whom all that money has gone, is unclear. “Leo and Thomas did not respond to questions about when the arrangement to pay Thomas began, if it ended and how much she was paid or what type of work she did,” Politico reports.

Subsidizing the Thomases isn’t all the JEP has done. It is staffed and directed by former Thomas clerks, and since it was reactivated in 2010, it has been one of the forces behind challenges to the Affordable Care Act, voting rights, affirmative action, etc. It files amicus briefs for the challenges that are detailed and extensively researched, in essence doing the conservative justices’ homework for them when constructing their decisions, Przybyla reports.

In 2020 JEP became the 85 fund, with a subgroup, The Honest Elections Project. That organization used Trump’s Big Lie of a “stolen” election to amplify claims of voter fraud and state elections corruption, and to push for more voter suppression.

The story has many, many layers beyond the dark money that seems to fund Thomas' family. It delves into some of the offshoots in Leo’s network and its murky relationship with the Supreme Court beyond Thomas, including Justice Samuel Alito and the deceased Justice Antonin Scalia. All of it, though, coalesces on the corruption of the Supreme Court by Leo and his anonymous millionaires and billionaires. That provides even more fodder for the probes currently being conducted into Supreme Court ethics in the Senate and the D.C. attorney general’s inquiry into Leo’s dark money network.

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.

Clarence Thomas

Thomas Discloses Three More Trips Funded By His GOP Billionaire 'Friend'

On Thursday, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas released his long-delayed 2022 financial disclosure statement, revealing three more previously unknown trips Thomas took last year courtesy of his billionaire “friend,” Harlan Crow. That includes one trip where Thomas says Crow provided a private plane due to “increased security risks following the Dobbs decision leak.”

Thomas doesn’t explain why those concerns about facing the public after a ruling was leaked in which he helped strip a fundamental right away from half the population also required that Crow cover the cost of Thomas’ meals on that trip. But then, Thomas also says Crow paid for transportation following an ice storm, so apparently even an inconvenience is a sufficient excuse to line up a private plane. It’s good to have friends.

Thomas' disclosure also contains a section in which he explains that he never listed these trips in previous years because past rules didn’t explicitly state that he had to report “transportation that substitutes for commercial transportation.” That “explicitly state” is doing a serious amount of heavy lifting for a guy whose entire job is to determine how laws apply to situations not explicitly detailed in those laws.

In addition to Thomas’ disclosure, his attorney had a statement in defense of his client. Anyone concerned that Thomas’ statement didn’t have enough complaints about liberals just coming after Thomas because of his “judicial philosophy” can find plenty of such complaints courtesy of attorney Elliot Berke.

According to Berke, Thomas has always tried for “full transparency.” It’s just that no one told him explicitly that reporting gifts covered private plane trips, housing, meals, or … gifts. “After reviewing Justice Thomas’s records,” writes Berke, “I am confident there has been no willful ethics transgression, and any prior reporting errors were strictly inadvertent.” Berke seems to think this puts any issues to bed.

Again, this is a Supreme Court justice saying he didn’t have to comply with the rules because they did not explicitly include the situation in which he accepted a gift, and that justice’s attorney following up by saying anything the justice did wrong is forgivable because it was “inadvertent.” These are standards every criminal defendant in the nation should applaud.

Hitting a big right-wing checkbox, Berke’s statement twice accuses left-wing critics of Thomas of “weaponizing” ethics rules, which is another way of saying investigators at ProPublica uncovered Thomas’ long list of unreported transactions and exposed at least a portion of the acts he was hiding. But Berke has an excuse for why Thomas didn’t have to explain any of this.

For several months now, left wing “watchdog” groups have been attacking Justice Thomas for alleged ethical violations largely stemming from his relationships with personal friends who happen to be wealthy.

What Berke doesn’t mention is that Thomas met those “personal friends” after he joined the Supreme Court. And the reason they “happen to be wealthy” is that they first met when Thomas joined Crow on his private jet. Thomas accepting gifts of flight, lodging, and meals from Crow isn’t something that developed because they were old school chums. It was Crow's wealth that brought them together to begin with.

In fact, that first meeting came when Crow provided Thomas with free transportation to a conservative speaking gig, which is exactly what Crow did again last year. Twice.

The third trip in 2022 was another incident in which Thomas apparently took a vacation on Crow’s dime—as one does when one’s “friend” just happens to be a billionaire. The first time Thomas accepted such a trip was just months after he and Crow first met. The exact nature of the third 2022 trip wasn’t detailed in the disclosure statement, which only shows that Crow covered “transportation, meals, and lodging” while Thomas and his wife were “guests of source.” However, past trips have included international flights and lengthy stays on a private 162-foot yacht, with one such trip valued at over $500,000.

Despite multiple lavish trips, this is how Thomas described his own thoughts about travel.

“I don’t have any problem with going to Europe, but I prefer the United States, and I prefer seeing the regular parts of the United States. I prefer the RV parks. I prefer the Walmart parking lots to the beaches and things like that. There’s something normal to me about it. I come from regular stock, and I prefer that — I prefer being around that.”

That statement comes from a documentary about Thomas’ life. A documentary funded in large part by … Harlan Crow. Odds are pretty good that wherever the undescribed trip Crow funded last year took place, it was not a Walmart parking lot.

In addition to the new trips, the biggest addition to Thomas’ disclosure is the word “inadvertently.” According to the form, Thomas inadvertently overlooked no fewer than 12 instances in which bank accounts or insurance policies should have been reported on past forms.

“Inadvertently” is also used to explain how Thomas left off the fact that Crow purchased his real estate property in Savannah, Georgia, in 2014. But then Thomas claims that the deal, which included Crow fixing up Thomas’ childhood home while allowing Thomas’ mother to continue living there, then buying Thomas out for an amount well above fair market value, actually represented a capital loss. So that’s no big deal.

Overall, Thomas' statement seems more like something an attorney would provide a petty criminal trying to escape charges for kiting checks than a document appropriate to a Supreme Court justice. Only most of those petty criminals would actually have to pay for their transgressions. Thomas will not.

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.

U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court's Approval Rating Drops To Lowest Level Ever

More than two years of highly unpopular decisions and months of exposés detailing scandals and alleged corruption has eroded the U.S. Supreme Court’s approval to its lowest level ever in the years in which Gallup has been tracking it. It dropped from 62 percent in 2000, the first year of the survey, to just 40 percent today. It had a 58 percent approval rating in 2020, before the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and the installation of Donald Trump’s appointee, Amy Coney Barrett. It’s been mostly downhill for the court’s approval since.

The court has been on a spree of unprecedented and radical actions over the last two and a half years, reversing decades of court precedent on abortion, voting rights, civil rights, environmental protection, executive authority, labor law—you name it, up to and including the foundational principles of the Constitution. If the court could reverse a century’s worth of progress in some arena of our public and private lives, they’d do it. For the first year of Trump-appointee dominance on the court, they didn’t even bother to hold hearings on a lot of it. They just tore up decades of progress in the “emergency” or “shadow docket,” where they could do it anonymously and with absolutely no transparency.

Those actions clearly had an effect on the court’s approval rating. There was a brief blip of increased approval—up to 43% in 2022—that was erased this year by the onslaught of scandals and apparent corruption by Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

That includes extensive ProPublica reporting on Thomas: the luxurious vacations, the real estate deals including his mother living rent- and mortgage-free in her newly renovated home, and the private school tuition for Thomas’ nephew, all from Harlan Crow, a billionaire mega-donor to the Republican Party. That’s without even considering the involvement of Thomas’ wife, Ginni, in the January 6 insurrection.

Alito hasn’t escaped ProPublica’s investigative eye either. It reported on his private, luxurious, and all-expense-paid fishing trip in which he hung out with a hedge fund manager who has had business before the Supreme Court, cases he heard and ruled on. Other outlets have followed its lead. CNN has investigated Alito’s celebration of overturning abortion rights with his all-expenses paid trip to Rome. Alito’s efforts to slap back at those stories and declare, incorrectly, that he is beyond the reach of Congress aren’t likely to resonate with any neutral observer among the public.

The court isn’t elected, so what the people think of them isn’t of direct concern to the justices. However, the people who have the power to regulate the court are elected, and thus have every interest in dealing with the problem. So perhaps the justices shouldn’t be too smug about their untouchability.

If any of them (cough, Chief Justice John Roberts, cough) truly care about the institution, they’ll see the threat to it in the growing lack of confidence and trust in the court, particularly right now when the rule of law in the nation is on such precarious ground thanks to an insurrectionist former president.

That’s where Roberts might take note of this new result from Gallup because it surveyed his personal approval rating for the first time in eight years. His approval has been relatively flat for the last decade, and now he sits at 43 percent approval. What’s changed is the chunk of the population that is paying enough attention to the court, and to Roberts, to have an opinion about him. In 2015, 44 percent of respondents simply didn’t know enough about him to weigh in with an opinion. This month, that was down to 27 percent.

If you’re a chief justice of the Supreme Court, you don’t want your work to be rising to the level of general public scrutiny. You’re better off with the court not making so much news—particualrly bad news—that more people are paying attention. You really don’t want that ahead of an election year in which your court and its lack of ethics is going to be a key issue.

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.