Supreme Court Corruption: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver | Transcript

John Oliver recaps the major news stories from the last two months and talks about the US Supreme Court corruption (especially involving Clarence Thomas)
Supreme Court Corruption Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
Season 11 Episode 1
Aired on February 18, 2024

Main segment: United States Supreme Court corruption (especially involving Clarence Thomas).
Other segments: Recap of major news stories from the last two months.

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[Cheers and applause]

John: Welcome, welcome, welcome to “Last Week Tonight”! I’m John Oliver, thank you so much for joining us. We are back! And we’ve missed a lot in two months, from Ron Desantis ending his campaign, to Nikki Haley losing the Nevada primary to “none of these candidates.” But the story I’m most sad to have missed concerned the sudden mania of a hole shaped like a rat on a Chicago street, or “rat hole” as it became known. Which probably peaked with this.

You knew it was inevitable, a Chicago rat hole wedding.

Wedding bells on Saturday at what’s become Chicago’s hottest tourist attraction: the Chicago rat hole. Raj and his partner looked at a lot of Chicago landmarks for their wedding, until 9 days ago when he saw the story of the Chicago rat hole.

We were viewing a lot of different venues, a lot of different, you know, big monuments in Chicago, and finally we looked at each other and we were like, “hey, let’s get married at the rat hole.”

John: Yes. Look, say what you will. That marriage is going to last forever. Because nothing says a relationship is solid like waiting until “9 fucking days” before your wedding day to pick a venue, then looking into each other’s eyes and both saying, “let’s get married at the rat hole.” That is true love right there. The hole’s emergence as a tourist attraction became a bit of a nuisance for neighbors, though — which may explain why, shortly before that wedding, this happened.

At some point today or yesterday, someone filled in Chicago’s most famous concrete attraction.

What were your feelings when you came to the rat hole and you saw it was filled in with concrete?

I just don’t understand why everyone’s trying to block our good time.

John: Exactly. She’s right. Let us enjoy one thing. Just one thing. Filling in the rat hole is a grave injustice — both figuratively and literally. And look, I’d love to spend this entire episode talking about rat holes. God knows I’ve done it before! But sadly, there’s more to catch up on. In Russia, Putin‘s been busy. One of his most prominent critics, Alexei Navalny, died in a Siberian prison this week, for reasons any idiot can figure out. Making it a bit awkward that last week, noted idiot Tucker Carlson sat down with Putin for a fawning interview, in which he failed to meaningfully challenge him. Tucker was so docile, even Putin later made fun of him.

[Putin] I honestly thought he’d be aggressive, asking these so-called sharp questions. I wasn’t simply ready for it, I wanted it. Because it would give me a chance to respond equally sharply, which, in my view, would give specificity to our entire conversation. But he chose a different tactic. Frankly speaking, I didn’t get complete pleasure from this interview.

John: Wow, there is embarrassing, and then there’s “getting roasted by Putin for being a lapdog” embarrassing. Also, why on earth did he think there’d be sharp questions? If whoever prepped Putin for that interview said anything other than, “hey you’re about to talk to the dumbest Brooks Brother, so feel free to take a nap,” they should be fired. Meanwhile, in the Middle East, Israel continued its assault on Gaza, with over 28,000 Palestinians now dead, most of them women and children. This week saw attacks in Rafah, the city that stands as the last refuge for Gazan civilians. And yet, the us refuses to curtail military aid to Israel, instead offering tepid rebukes, like Biden saying Israel’s actions are “over the top,” while the white house leaks that, privately, the president’s actually very upset.

Part of what the president is saying, according to people who’ve heard him make these comments, is that Net — Netanyahu is, quote, “giving him hell,” that he’s impossible to deal with. We’re also told on three, at least three instances, the president referred to Netanyahu as an a-hole.

John: Whoa, careful there, Joe. What if Bibi hears you? Nothing shames the guy comfortable with bombing hospitals and refugee camps like knowing that 6,000 miles away, an 81-year-old is muttering pg-13 words under his breath? What’s next? Is Biden going to whisper “what a dick” into a seashell and toss it into the ocean? And Biden’s reportedly said worse, which American TV danced around, but Arabic-language Al Jazeera delivered the quote in full. We’re not going to translate this for you, but you’ll know the phrase when you hear it.

[Speaking in a non-English language] Fucking bad guy.

John: Yeah, Biden apparently called Netanyahu, “a bad fucking guy.” And look, you should be allowed to say that about Netanyahu uncensored on American tv. Because I guarantee, it’s coming out of the mouths of Gazans and families of the hostages nonstop right now. Meanwhile, the president’s likely opponent in November has been taking a break between court dates and accumulating massive financial penalties to offer his own plans for international relations. First saying that, if nato members don’t “pay their bills” — which isn’t a thing — he’d encourage Russia to “do whatever the hell they want.” Then he suggested aid to Ukraine should actually be a loan, then got distracted, then distracted again from his original distraction.

[Donald Trump] Why should you just hand it over to ’em? Do it as a form of a loan. I do that with athletes, they can’t quite, like a professional golfer who I think is very good, they don’t have any money, but they have a lot of talent. I’ll say here’s the deal, I did it with a number of people, here’s the deal, what I wanna do professional golfer, play golf, I play very nice. Did you see the picture of me, the horrible picture with the stomach out to here? That was… So what I do is, I’m putting up today a picture of me, actually, what I actually look like, hitting a ball, smashing the fricking ball, and you’ll see quite — I wouldn’t say slim. I wouldn’t say slim. But not bad. But the ball does go far. I would say it goes about nine times further than Biden can hit it.

John: What? I haven’t watched Trump speak in so long I honestly forgot how absolutely jam-packed with nonsense every sentence is. It’s the little details, like the way he suddenly yelled “hand! It over to them,” as if a ghost jabbed him in the ribs mid-sentence. I don’t want to be overdramatic here, but the idea of watching clips of him talking every week for the next year makes me want to book a trip on the next Titan submersible. And I know no one watching this needs a reminder that we have a long, grim election year ahead of us. But keep in mind. It’s only February. We need to pace ourselves, or we’re going to get burned out, and want to crawl into a small hole and wait for it to be over. Although I will say, if that does happen. I know a pretty good hole in Chicago that’s apparently available.


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John: Moving on. Our main story tonight concerns the courts, the dignified palaces of justice which, during COVID, brought us spectacular moments like this.

Mr. Ponton, I believe you have a filter turned on in the video settings.

It is, and I don’t know how to remove it. I’ve got my assistant here, she’s trying to, but we’re prepared to go forward with it. I’m here live, I’m not a cat.

John: Perfect. You know a hearing’s off to a shaky start when a lawyer has to clarify he is — and I quote — “not a cat.” And I did not want him to “un-cat” himself. I wanted that man to spend the rest of the hearing as a photo-realistic kitten looking like he just witnessed a double homicide. Specifically, we’re going to talk about the Supreme Court, which is set to have a monumental year. Not only will it take on cases concerning the availability of mifepristone, and whether Trump’s immune from prosecution for his role in January 6, it’s also considering a case centering on something called “Chevron Deference.” Which, I know, sounds like the title of a spy novel you’d burn through in an airport, but it’s a vitally important legal precedent that says when there’s ambiguity in the letter of a law, courts should defer to regulatory agencies’ expertise. Very basically, do you like when the EPA regulates pollution, or the FDA regulates drugs? Much of their ability to do that comes from Chevron Deference. And if the court guts it, it’ll be much easier for private industries to block government regulation. So this is going to be a huge year for a court that has seldom been more powerful. And yet, respect for it has seldom been lower.

The court’s public approval rating has dropped to a 50-year low, with just 18% expressing great confidence.

John: It’s true, and it’s hard to think of anything people have less confidence in right now, aside from the window seats in Boeing planes. And there are understandable reasons for that, from the unpopular decision overturning Roe v. Wade to the fact that one-third of the court was appointed, sometimes under dubious circumstances, by a man who never won the popular vote. But the past year’s introduced us to a whole new reason to question the court’s integrity, thanks to a steady drumbeat of stories like these.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is facing new allegations he accepted luxurious vacations and gifts from wealthy individuals and didn’t properly disclose them.

Politico reported, Justice Neil Gorsuch sold property he owned to the head of a major law firm.

Justice Samuel Alito defended himself after he didn’t report a luxury trip to Alaska and a private jet flight.

The report details that in July of that year, they stayed at the King Salmon Lodge and were served multi-course meals of Alaskan king crab legs or Kobe filet. They also enjoyed wine that cost $1,000 a bottle.

John: Now, Alito denies he did anything wrong, and specifically said, “if there was wine, it was certainly not wine that costs $1,000.” Which I hope is true for multiple reasons, namely, that wine should never cost $1,000 because wine is not that good a drink. I’m serious. The thing about the words people use to describe good one. A complex? That’s just a fancy word for confusing. “Earthy?” That’s dirt flavor. And “smooth?” Your best compliment is that it didn’t fight you on the way down? It’s a bad drink! But the cost of the wine — which, again, should be zero — isn’t the point. The fact is, stories like those have further undermined public trust in the court, which is a big problem. Because it’s an institution that relies on respect. It can’t enforce its own rulings. And without public buy-in, it could theoretically be ignored. Chief Justice Roberts himself recently wrote, “public trust is essential, not incidental, to our function.” So these scandals are a huge issue. And given that, tonight, we’d thought we’d look at how deep this court’s problems go, and a possible solution that might go one-ninth of the way towards helping things. And let’s start with a striking fact: when it comes to what ethical rules the court is required to follow, there basically aren’t any. Congress can impeach a justice in extreme scenarios, but short of that, the court essentially regulates itself. And that has happened. In the ’60s, Justice Abe Fortas was involved in a number of scandals, including taking money to advise a businessman who wound up having a case before the court. But despite the fact that getting paid for outside work was legal — and that Fortas both returned the money and recused himself from the case — the mere appearance of impropriety caused lawmakers of both parties to call for his resignation. And he stepped down, saying he was doing so for the good of the court. And just a few weeks later, the U.S. Judicial Conference unveiled a new ethics policy for federal judges, with one tiny exception. See if you can spot it.

The United States judicial — judicial conference today issued a code of ethics which prevents all federal judges, except Supreme Court justices, from accepting fees, gifts, or compensation of any kind for off-bench activities.

John: Yeah, the Supreme Court justices were exempt. So that new rule solved every problem except for the one they just had. And there’ve been multiple tweaks to the code of ethics over the years, with the one constant being that the Supreme Court justices are not covered by it. And even laws that theoretically apply to them, are unenforceable. The argument is that, because they’re the highest court in the land, there’s no one they can answer to. Now, over the years, the justices have noted that they voluntarily follow certain rules. For instance, they’re required to report any gifts worth more than $480. That’s how we learned about Ruth Bader Ginsburg receiving a $4500 opera costume, Ketanji Brown Jackson receiving a floral arrangement from Oprah worth $1,200, and Antonin Scalia receiving “two firearms and $950 worth of dictionaries.” Which is slightly weirdly phrased. Because “$950 worth of dictionaries” could either mean one very luxurious dictionary or 120 regular ones. But while those gifts were disclosed, others haven’t been. Scalia had a habit of not disclosing trips other people paid for — and actually died while staying for free at the hunting lodge of a business executive whose company had recently had a case before the court. And I bet that executive was glad he got the ruling before that fun-sounding visit. And as you’ve already seen, some justices have run with that precedent. Remember Alito’s fishing trip? When it came to light, he said he didn’t think the rules required disclosing it. And attempted to justify the free private jet flight with a laughable argument.

Alito explaining that on that private jet flight, he was in what would otherwise have been an unoccupied seat.

John: Oh, come on. Alito’s considered one of the sharpest conservative legal minds and that’s the best he’s got? Of course if you hadn’t been in the seat, the seat would’ve been empty, Samuel. That’s not so much a defense of your behavior as it is an explanation of how seats work. Also, it’s a private jet. All the seats are otherwise unoccupied. They don’t overbook them like it’s the 5:05 Spirit Airlines flight from Myrtle Beach to Vegas. And that feels ethically dicey, even before you learn that one of his hosts on that trip was a hedge fund manager whose companies have since had 10 cases before the court. And that’s not a one-off. For years, Neil Gorsuch, had been trying unsuccessfully to sell a 40-acre piece of property he co-owned in Colorado. But coincidentally, just nine days after he was confirmed, he managed to sell it. And while he did disclose that sale, he left the identity of the purchaser blank on the form, which isn’t great, because it turned out to be the chief executive of one of the nation’s biggest law firms — which has since been involved in at least 22 Supreme Court cases. And if you’re wondering what that weird sound is, that’s him saying are you kidding me? But the biggest offender on the current court is unquestionably Clarence Thomas. If you’re unfamiliar with his work, I envy you. But, very quickly: he’s an extreme originalist, known for adopting hard-right positions years before other justices come around to them — from overturning gun laws, to undermining the Voting Rights Act. He’s also questioned whether poor people have a right to a lawyer, saying the constitution only guarantees you the right to hire a lawyer, not to have one provided for you. And he once said that black civil right leaders “bitch, bitch, bitch, moan and moan, whine and whine.” And sure, why can’t the people fighting for basic equality have the chill, good-time vibes we all associate with Clarence Thomas? He’s so fun to be around! Ask almost any woman who’s ever worked for him! For years, there’ve been stories about Thomas accepting lavish gifts. But things escalated with a series of ProPublica investigations revealing Thomas’s relationship with these four conservative billionaires.

The report says the four moguls collectively treated Thomas to 38 destination vacations. 26 Private jet flights, plus an additional eight by helicopter, a dozen VIP passes to professional and college sporting events, two stays at luxury resorts in Florida and Jamaica, and one standing invitation to an Uber-exclusive golf club. The dollar value likely in the millions.

John: Just one of those vacations was a nine-day Indonesian superyacht voyage that, if he’d paid for it himself, could have exceeded over half a million dollars. And the way Propublica tracked down some of those trips is pretty great. Because the host of that Indonesian vacation — and multiple others — was Harlan Crow, a billionaire who “has given millions to efforts to move the law and the judiciary to the right.” Crow liked to give out commemorative polo shirts for the trips he took people on. So ProPublica just started looking at the shirts Thomas was wearing in photos, which helped them uncover some of these trips. And look, journalism is a crapshoot. Sometimes, you spend weeks hunting down leads, painstakingly building a timeline. Other times, your target just posts a photo of himself on Facebook wearing a t-shirt that says “secret undeclared yacht vacation 2003” and gives the whole game away. Those reporters also tracked down photos and cards that Thomas’s wife, Ginni, sent to friends to commemorate their trips, with fun captions like “five couples ready for river rafting!” “The Sokols took four lucky couples to the first Nebraska foot-bal — misspelled — game of the season,” and this photo of a Trump administration attorney and his wife captioned, “Mark and Tricia paoletta sang a special tribute to Clarence they created!” And every single one of those photos looks like it was on the mood board for “get out.” But wait, I’m not done! They also found this photorealistic painting that Harlan Crow commissioned of one of those vacations featuring him, Thomas, Leonard Leo, the head of the conservative Federalist Society, and a statue of a native american man seemingly praying for lightning to strike this exact spot. But if you’re thinking that’s the worst piece of art Harlan Crow owns, you’re mistaken.

Published reports say Dallas tycoon Harlan Crow’s controversial collection includes Hitler’s notorious autobiography mein kampf, signed by Hitler, oil paintings by Hitler, and linen napkins embroidered with the nazi swastika. The collection is housed at Crow’s Mansion in Dallas. “I can’t get over the collection of nazi memorabilia,” said one guest, who saw the nazi treasure trove. “You sort of just gasp when you walk into the room.”

John: Yeah, I bet you do! Because that’s a bit of a red flag! Specifically, this red flag. Now, crow says his controversial artifacts are part of a collection meant to preserve a part of our history, and “to understand how we all got here.” And I’m guessing his guests ask that exact question when they see his signed copy of “Mein Kampf” for the first time. “How the fuck did I get here?” Though, bad news for Harlan about at least one of his Hitler paintings — an expert has since deemed it “definitely not authentic.” Which I guess he should’ve seen coming. It was signed “a Hitler” not “the Hitler.” Crow’s also repeatedly flown Thomas out on his jet for trips to the Bohemian Grove — the California retreat for the rich and powerful — where he and the Koch brothers apparently developed a bond. Here’s Thomas with one of them and Ken Burns, for some reason. Thomas has also, incidentally, attended Koch donor events at least twice, serving as a fundraising draw for an organization that regularly brings cases before the court. Now, his excuse for not reporting any of this was that he “sought guidance from my colleagues and others…” “And was advised that this sort of personal hospitality from close personal friends… Was not reportable.” But while it’s true the judicial guidelines have an exception for personal hospitality, experts will point out: that means “dinner at someone’s house” not “a nine-day-all-expenses-paid yacht trip.” A good rule of thumb is “if it could be a prize on the price is right, it’s not personal hospitality.” And Thomas has received more than just “hospitality” anyway. In 2014, one of Harlan Crow’s companies bought a string of properties in Savannah including Thomas’s childhood home where his mother still lives. Crow also reportedly paid for two years of private school for Thomas’s grand-nephew, whom Thomas has raised as a son — which, based on the tuition rates at the time, amounted to roughly $100,000. Neither of those were disclosed at the time. And it gets pretty hard to square the lavish vacations, the real estate, the tuition, with Thomas’s insistence that he’s an iconoclastic voice for the little guy, in appearances like this one from two years ago, where he thanked the people who’d shown up to support him during his confirmation hearing.

The regular people showed up. And it was always us against the elites. And that’s the way it has been for the last 40-plus years I’ve been in public life. Us against the elites.

John: Oh, I get it! So the 38 destination vacations were just part of your “us versus the elites” plot. Lull them into a false sense of security, then presumably, on the 39th vacation — viva la revolution! I love it! What a plan! But that sounds like horseshit even before you see that “this” is how that talk started.

I’m sure you and all of us want to join Harlan — thank Harlan Crow and his family for making this wonderful facility available to us. [Applause] I know Harlan hates that. So I knew we had to —

I know he does, that’s why I wouldn’t say it.

I knew we had to do it.

I’d like to keep that friendship.

John: I bet you would! I’m sure “friendship” is definitely the thing you like the most about knowing Harlan Crow. Not the lavish yacht trips, or the private jet flights — it’s the simple human companionship of an aging nazi napkin collector. But perhaps the item that perfectly sums up the distance between Thomas’s regular-guy persona and his high-end tastes is his motor home. It’s his prize possession. He even showed it off during his “60 minutes” interview.

One of his passions is this 40-foot-long motor home that he and his wife use to explore the United States in their downtime. Do you find this relaxing?

Oh, yeah. It’s away from the — sort of, the meanness that you see in Washington and you get here with just the regular folks. And it’s so pleasant.

John: I can see that. People in Washington can be so mean. I’ve heard some even make decisions in landmark court cases that loosen gun regulations, limit affirmative action, and strip women of their constitutional right to an abortion, so I get the impulse to want to get outta town to avoid those fucking sociopaths. Thomas loves his motor home so much, he can actually be a bit of a snob if asked inaccurately about it.

One of you enjoys traveling cross-country with your spouse in a 40-foot RV. Who’s that?

Well, that’s technically incorrect.

Is it not an RV?

It is a motor coach.

Is that bigger than an RV?

Well, it could be, but it is a better vehicle than an RV. An RV is normally built on a light truck chassis. A motor coach is a tour bus. I mean, it’s — it’s old, but it’s really nice.

John: Honestly, if Thomas hadn’t caused so much human misery, him liking big comfy trucks that go vroom vroom would be kind of charming. Every man in his 70’s has picked a vehicle that occupies way too much space in his brain and heart. Some like trains that go choo-choo. Some love boats that go “glub glub.” And others love motor coaches, based on a non-light-truck chassis. I’m not saying these men love their vehicles more than their families. It’s just, it’s easier for them to say “I prefer o-scale trains because historically, that’s what this country’s finest model trains have been since the 1800’s,” than “I’m proud of you, son.” But about that bus. It’s apparently the rolls-royce of motor coaches: a custom Prevost marathon, or as Thomas once put it, a “condo on wheels.” And if you’re thinking, “that’s a pretty big purchase for a Supreme Court justice to be able to afford,” about that.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has been an RV evangelist for decades, traveling the country in a 40-foot luxury motorcoach that he purchased in 1999 after borrowing more than a quarter of a million dollars from a wealthy friend. But a new report from democrats on the senate finance committee alleges Thomas’ friend forgave a substantial amount of that massive loan. And nine years later, his friend forgave all the debt.

John: Well, that sounds like a sweet deal! Honestly, it’s starting to feel like Thomas doesn’t so much have “friends” as “a collection of human atm’s.” And his wealthy friends will say there’s nothing to see here, and they’re just doing for Clarence what they’d do for anyone else. Harlan Crow pulled that exact move.

In a statement, Harlan Crow, the Dallas real estate billionaire who picks up the tabs for these trips, says he and Thomas have been friends since 1996. Writing, “the hospitality we have extended to the Thomases over the years is no different from the hospitality we have extended to our many other dear friends.”

John: Okay, but it is different, though. Because while you may have been friends with Clarence Thomas for a long time, you didn’t start being friends with him until five years after he was made a Supreme Court justice. In fact, each of his four major benefactors appears to have first met Thomas after he ascended to the Supreme Court. Which is inherently telling. Even socially inept high schoolers can figure that out. If Brenna, Jackson, and Ashton only start hanging out with you after you get a job at Coldstone, you know it’s not about you, it’s about the free fucking scoops. And thankfully, there is a way for a justice to avoid the appearance of impropriety, and that’s recusal. Any justice is required to disqualify themself in any proceeding where their impartiality might reasonably be questioned. But, as with everything else you’ve seen tonight, for the Supreme Court, it’s essentially just a suggestion. The justices themselves decide if they are able to be impartial, and those decisions cannot be appealed. And even when it comes to recusals, Thomas is an outlier — he almost never recuses, even when he clearly should. Take one recent case where he had a flagrant conflict of interest — albeit not financial. Because the court recently took up a number of appeals involving cases surrounding January 6. As it happens, a major cheerleader to overturn Biden’s win was Thomas’s own wife, Ginni — as her texts to then-white House chief of staff Mark Meadows show.

In one, Thomas writing, quote, “help this great president stand firm, Mark! Biden and the left is attempting the greatest heist of our history.” And in another just days the 2020 election, Thomas writing, “do not concede.”

On November 24th, meadows wrote Thomas, “this is a fight of good versus evil.” Thomas replied, “thank you! Needed that! This plus a conversation with my best friend just now.”

John: Wow. I will say, Ginni Thomas looks exactly like a person who would try to speak to the manager about a presidential election. But despite that “conversation with my best friend” line, Ginni insists she never talked to her husband about the election challenges. Which is a bit weird, because he says this a lot.

It’s a particular honor to be here with my wife, Virginia, who is totally my best friend in the world.

I love to spend time with my wife who’s totally my best friend in the whole world.

I love being here with my bride, Virginia, who’s a gift from god and my totally best friend in the whole world.

John: Okay, first, if Ginni is indeed “a gift from god,” I guess it’s nice that Clarence Thomas got at least one gift from someone who’s not a billionaire. But also, it’d seem that either Ginni Thomas was keeping her husband up to date on her ongoing coup attempt, or: she’s Clarence’s best friend but he isn’t hers. And that’s rough. There’s going to be a lot of awkward silences on their next motor coach trip. But the fact is, a justice’s wife inserted herself in efforts to overturn the last election. Yet, in multiple cases involving January 6, Thomas didn’t recuse himself — even in one concerning whether white house files, which could have contained more of Ginni’s texts, had to be handed over to the January 6 committee. In that case, Thomas was the lone dissenter saying that they should remain secret. And if that’s not a conflict of interest, I don’t know what one is. But look, the fundamental corruption here might be bigger than anything one recusal could cover. Because I’m not saying Thomas is only voting the way he is because of the trips and the gifts. His opinions were horrible before he ever set foot on a yacht. But that doesn’t mean those billionaires haven’t had an impact on him. Because, for years, Thomas repeatedly talked about money. In the 1980s, he told a reporter, he planned to be rich, and said that means more than just a few hundred thousand dollars a year. But unfortunately for him, that’s exactly what being a Supreme Court justice currently pays — just under $300,000. And he’s been pretty vocal about his dissatisfaction with that, sometimes even publicly.

The job is not worth doing for what they pay. It’s not worth doing for the grief, but it is worth doing for the principle.

John: You sure about that? Because your job is writing opinions in a bathrobe and it pays six figures. Most bloggers do that for free, and they don’t get to enjoy seeing their worst takes becoming everyone else’s law. It was right around that time, in the early aughts, that Thomas reportedly said to a republican member of Congress that, unless it gave Supreme Court justices a pay raise, quote: one or more will leave soon maybe in the next year. That set off alarms in conservative quarters. As that lawmaker Thomas spoke to recalls it, “his importance as a conservative was paramount. We wanted to make sure he felt comfortable in his job and he was being paid properly.” Unfortunately for Thomas, justices’ salaries haven’t been raised beyond inflation since then. But it may not be a coincidence that a handful of billionaires have suddenly stepped in to make sure that Thomas was never anything less than extremely comfortable. And in recent years, he’s seemed much less worried about his paycheck.

Right now, what is the compensation of a justice of the Supreme Court?

Oh, goodness, I think it’s plenty. [Laughs]

Well, it’s —

It’s not quite where you are — [laughs] I have no — my wife and I are doing fine. We don’t — we don’t live extravagantly, but we are fine.

John: Here’s a fun fact for you: that was in early June of 2019. Guess where he was at the end of that month? On Harlan Crow’s Indonesian yacht trip. That’s the comfortable laugh of a man looking forward to a free trip and — fingers crossed — a free shirt to go with it! Basically, what I’m suggesting is, it’s not that these billionaires have paid Thomas to change his views. It’s that they like his views, so they’re paying for him not to leave. Which is different, but not better. And if that was their plan, it’s worked. Because Thomas is now at the heart of the new conservative supermajority on the court. And he has plans to go further. In his concurrence in the Dobbs case, he said the court should reconsider previous erroneous rulings on sodomy, birth control and gay marriage. And despite for being on for the difference of diseases. Because remember that Chevron Deference I mentioned earlier? 20 years ago, Thomas actually wrote a majority opinion that expanded Chevron’s protections. But since then, there’s been a massive conservative push to get rid of Chevron — led by the Koch organization — you know, Clarence’s vacation friends. And a few years ago, Thomas renounced his earlier decision, writing that he’d determined the doctrine is unconstitutional after all. Now, what caused that change of heart? I don’t know. Was it 15 years of marinating in right-wing money, and vacationing with businessmen who could massively profit from it being overturned? We can’t say for sure. But we can all think it together, can’t we? Ready? Let’s do that. Putts 1, 2, 3, yes, it’s because of the money. Shit, sorry, I thought it so hard it came out of my mouth.

And look, I know we focused a lot on Clarence Thomas tonight, but this story isn’t just about his integrity. It’s about the court’s. From the beginning, America, like most countries, was built on polite fictions, by men who could somehow hold in their heads the idea that all men were created equal, at the same time they were drawing up the three-fifths compromise. And while we’ve shed a lot of those fictions, we still cling to the idea of the Supreme Court as a body separate and apart from politics. It retains a certain amount of mystique and ceremony. We literally put the justices on a pedestal, and let them wear robes like wizards. In their confirmation hearings, they pretend to have no idea how they’ll rule on hot-button issues, and we all have to pretend to believe them before we appoint them to a job they can hold until they die. We don’t treat them like what they are, which is people, who can be motivated by ideology and greed, like anyone else. But polite fictions can only be bent so far before they break. And right now, it feels like the Supreme Court is at a breaking point. And there are small ways to fix that — from a real, enforceable ethics code, to term limits, to even potentially expanding the court. And honestly, if it were up to me, they’d also be dressed not in robes, but as Walmart greeters, to emphasize they’re not magic, they’re humans, like everyone else. But if we’re not going to do any of that — if we’re going to keep the bar of accountability this low — perhaps it’s time to exploit that low bar the same way billionaires have successfully done for decades.

And that finally brings us to the solution I mentioned at the start of this piece. Because Clarence Thomas is arguably the most consequential justice on the court right now. And he’s never seemed to really like the job — he’s said it’s not worth doing “for the grief.” So, what if he could keep the luxury perks he clearly enjoys, without having to endure all that grief? Well, I think there might be a way. Because, Justice Thomas, we have a special offer for you. We are prepared to offer you one million dollars a year, for the rest of your life, if you simply agree to leave the Supreme Court immediately and never come back. It’s that simple.

[Cheers and applause]

Just sign this contract, resign, and the money’s all yours! This is not a joke, if you watch our show, you know jokes aren’t really our thing. This is real. A million dollars a year, until you or I die. We’ve spoken to experts, who’ve all told us that, best they can tell, this is somehow legal. Which seems crazy, because it really feels like it shouldn’t be. But as they keep pointing out, there are no rules in place to stop me doing this. And let me be clear, HBO’s not putting up the money for this. I’m personally on the hook. You could make me really regret this! I could be doing standup tours to pay for your retirement for years. But this offer isn’t forever. You have exactly 30 days from midnight tonight to make your resignation effective. And if you’re still on the fence, I actually have a little deal sweetener that I’m excited to show you — so please come with me. Just come, come this way.

Because we know you’ve got a lot on your plate right now — from stripping away women’s rights, to hearing January 6th cases you definitely shouldn’t be hearing, to potentially helping roll back decades of federal regulations. And you deserve a break. You know, away from the “meanness of Washington.” So you can be surrounded by the “regular folks” whose lives you’ve made demonstrably worse for decades now. And the good news is, I think we can help you there. Because since your favorite mode of travel might be in need of an upgrade, we’re excited to offer you…

♪ ♪

[Cheers and applause]

This brand new, top-of-the-line Prevost marathon motor coach. Look at this beauty, Clarence! It’s worth $2.4 million, and it’s got a full bedroom — yes, that’s a king bed — one and a half baths, a fucking fireplace, four tv’s, a washer-dryer, and a, quote, “residential-sized fridge.” And if you’re thinking, what will my friends say if I take this offer? Will they judge me, as they sit in their boardrooms and megayachts and Hitler shrines? Will they still treat me to luxury vacations, and sing songs about me off their phones? Well, that’s the beauty of friendship, Clarence. If they’re real friends, they’ll love you no matter what your job is. So I guess this might be the perfect way to find out who your real friends actually are. So that’s the offer. A million dollars a year, Clarence, and a brand new “condo on wheels?” And all you have to do in return is sign the contract and get the fuck off the Supreme Court. Talk it over with your totally best friend in the whole world, because the clock starts now! 30 Days, Clarence! Let’s do this.

That’s our show. Thank you so much for watching. We will see you next week. Goodnight!

♪ ♪

How is this legal! Your move, Clarence! Your fucking move.

[Cheers and applause]

♪ ♪


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