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May 5, 2023·edited May 5, 2023Liked by david roberts

I'm going to disagree with you on this topic David.

First, personal responsibility. If Thomas can't live within his means of $300,000 that is on Thomas. That's more than 90% of Americans live on.

Second, Ginni Thomas takes in $250k to $500k for the family pot.

Third, what is most unacceptable is not the outrageous monetary gifts alone, it is that the highest "Judge of Law" in America, claims ignorance, and lied about his statutory and ethical duties to timely disclose the gifts.

Fourth, Harlan Crow would never give you or me or anyone reading this the magnitude of gifts given to Associate Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. As warm and friendly and aligned even we might be with his personal, political and/or religious philosophy and beliefs.

If Thomas had not been appointed to the Supreme Court, Harlan Crow wouldn't even give him the time of day.

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I get your POV. And certainly Crow's relationship with Thomas is based on Thomas's position.

And I am not saying that Thomas is blameless.

Rather that we put these officials in a position where they are almost certain to cut ethical corners. Because we don't pay them enough relative to comparable positions in the private sector.

Why not make the compensation structure commensurate with the importance of the position?

I predicted I'd get blowback on this one!

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Based on Corporate scales..itd be silly

President- $100M/yr

VP - $50M/yr

Senator- $25M/yr

House - $5M/yr

SCOTUS- $30M/yr

Just whiteboarding

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This seems quite reasonable to me, given how important those jobs are.

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The cutting of ethical corners ought not to even be on the table. We're talking about the highest level of the judiciary and there should not be any mention of cutting ethical corners. No one forced him to take the $300k. There is no excuse and it is not upon us to pay him more and, by the way, there is guarantee that a bigger salary would even have that effect. We all know of many wealthy people who spend time and energy to create more wealth. This is not only a bad idea, but one not likely to work as intended (noting that the intentions are good).

This is not a non-starter. This is something that, upon the starter's pistol firing, will go backwards.

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I am actually less troubled that Thomas and his wife have received money from a person who does NOT have business before the court than I am by the fact that another justice has received money from a publisher who DOES have business before the court and she did not recuse herself.

I have been in the senior levels of government and heard from colleagues that they were making less than they could get in the private sector. My reply was always "go ahead." But I think it is very likely two countervailing realities to explain the discrepancy.

One is that they are virtually unfireable in government, whereas their private sector colleagues could be -- and occasionally were -- fired. And many of them found themselves out of work at an age where employment elsewhere was not likely.

The other is that their job comes with status that does not apply to a similar job in the private sector. My job certainly did. So it's a tradeoff: prestige or pay.

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Note: It was a trade-off made by their own, free will.

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Precisely. And with advance knowledge of the salary they would receive in government.

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Apparently, SCOTUS justices who retire after at least 10 years of service are paid their final year salary every year, for the rest of their lives.

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I believe Members of Congress draw full pay for the rest of their lives after a certain number of years of service. I have heard that number is five, but I have never bothered to confirm it. Other senior government officials also qualify for lifetime pay after a certain number of years.

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https://www.citizensforethics.org/news/analysis/clarence-thomass-decisions-have-been-benefiting-wealthy-donors-like-harlan-crow-for-decades/

Well, there has been one direct Crow case before Thomas. But more insidiously, CitizensUnited hugely benefits Crow, and high wealth donors. Thomas has opposed disclosure in many cases.

The book deals are a traffic ticket comparing to Thomas's ethical manslaughter. As I see it.

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A traffic ticket to the tune of half a million dollars? Your power of comparison is deficient, begging your pardon.

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May 6, 2023·edited May 6, 2023

I will not beg your pardon. Paid for a book deal. Disclosed. Big deal.. book case.

Now, Ginni lobbied for CitizenUnited, the most consequential case, and Clarence is sleeping with the advocate party. You completely forgot this outrageous conflict.

The book deal money for a bookm disclosed vs hidden dark undisclosed money NOT disclosed and from heavy Conservative advocates on dramatic America changing cases.

Seriously. Your comprehension of gravitas and and effect is deficient.

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Doug, I get your point and have no argument with it. I would suggest a lighter touch might work well. Personalizing our arguments (and this includes Flier's "your power of comparison is deficient") does not further the conversation. Just a gentle suggestion for you both.

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Yes I agree. I apologize for my lack of decorum.

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"Thomas’s low salary" ..." It’s a fact that people who are qualified to be at the higher reaches of government, federal and local, are paid salaries that are generally much lower than they could earn in the private sector."..."The bottom line is that the inadequate pay "...

Is this April Fool's Day? Are you serious? Let me cry my heart out for a guy, any guy, who makes $300K? Was he forced into this job instead of a higher paying job in the private sector?

"The pay scale also makes it easier for the already wealthy to serve and they do, disproportionately, especially in Congress." Are you saying this is a good thing? I'd argue we'd be well served by ordinary people with solid common sense who, at government salaries, would feel well off enough that they wouldn't need "gifts" and contributions to keep up with friends, as if that is some Constitutional right.

Of all the things you've written that I've read, this is the least sensible and least defensible. I have tried to teach my kids and my grandchildren to do the right thing just because it is the right thing to do, not to accept gifts and contributions so they can keep up with the wealthiest 1 or 2% of the nation.

We ought not have to pay and grant exorbitant salaries and exceptions to get good people to serve. If that is what they require, I'd argue they are self-disqualifying on the simple matter of integrity.

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I actually wrote that it is NOT a good thing that the wealthy are so disproportionately represented in Congress: "This does not necessarily match up with attracting the most talented people, nor is it a “good look” for a country founded on the goal of equality of opportunity."

It's not a question of sympathy for anyone. In effect, we all own "equity" in America. We should want the best people serving us in the highest reaches of our government. The pay scale just doesn't match the importance of the role.

As I replied elsewhere, I'm not saying Thomas is blameless. But put people in roles where they're in constant contact with wealthy people, and they will covet what they see for themselves and for their families. It's human nature.

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Your last point first about putting people in roles where.... If that is true and to be expected, then we will never be able to pay enough.

Now, I'm also not sure that the best people for these jobs are the already top 5%. Why? I think we might get some really good decisions from "ordinary" folks who have good judgement and a sense of justice, neither of which automatically come with money. If current office holders, agency heads and higher level judges already come from the top 5% (and probably top 2-3%), is that working well?

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Supreme Court (sub)stacking!

I have no sympathy for Clarence. I think it's off-mark to characterize his $300k salary as "low," especially given how much of his and his family's life is essentially subsidized by the federal government and the nature of his position: including the corollary advantages that you identify, including teaching, lecturing, writing, etc. But most important: he undertook a position knowing full well that not only actual impropriety and conflict of interest mist be avoided, but also the appearance of such. I've filed refusal motions, for example, on the ground that regardless of a judge's actual intent and effort to be fair, something the judge did/said rendered them unfit to preside because of the very appearance and suggestion of bias. There is no way Clarence should have accepted such largesse from someone like Crow, for example, who has lots of skin in the game in the rulings made by Clarences Court. And I think Clarence is an anomoly: I doubt that many if not most of the other Justices, currently on the bench have anything close to Thomas' now-disclosed record of acceptance of gifts from interested parties and subsequent non disclosure. And presumably those other civil servants also make no more than $300k per year.

As always, though, a well written piece, even if I disagree!

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Repeating what I write to Josh

I actually wrote that it is NOT a good thing that the wealthy are so disproportionately represented in Congress: "This does not necessarily match up with attracting the most talented people, nor is it a “good look” for a country founded on the goal of equality of opportunity."

It's not a question of sympathy for anyone. In effect, we all own "equity" in America. We should want the best people serving us in the highest reaches of our government. The pay scale just doesn't match the importance of the role.

As I replied elsewhere, I'm not saying Thomas is blameless. But put people in roles where they're in constant contact with wealthy people, and they will covet what they see for themselves and for their families. It's human nature.

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No $300k salary is low. There are some that are higher, but low it is not.

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Whether it adorns a can of coke or a bottle of Veuve Clicquot, a pubic hair is a pubic hair.

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I'm not a fan of Thomas. Just trying to get people to see the temptation that public officials are exposed to.

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Double the salary and the temptation will still be there. Triple the salary and it will still be there.

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May 6, 2023Liked by david roberts

I don't know about all of this. Whether you're a president, supreme court justice , or local alderman - you know the deal going in and if you take the deal you have to have the moral fortitude to live by the deal and if you can't you shouldn't take the position. Also, for me, there is something sacred about all of these jobs - almost like priesthood (especially the Supreme court). Sacrificing some of one's worldly possessions (or potential to accumulate worldly possessions) elevates the person and the job.

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I think you describe how we want people to be vs. how most of us are.

All the responses, including yours, have made me wonder 1) why there's such a gap between the public and private sector in terms of pay scale for the most senior positions and was that always the case in the U.S. and 2) should there be a gap?

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Fair questions about the gap, but how we want people to be v how we are is simply a justification to lower the bar for good behavior. As I said, no one forced them into these high (if not highest) paying jobs. They took the deal and should live by it with integrity. We ought not lower the bar and pay them in the hopes that they will behave better. Let's not forget, too, that they may not behave any better. There are many of the top "haves" who keep wanting more. Why would these gov folks not want more and take what they can get, albeit starting from a higher base? Aside from the integrity issues, there is no reason to expect your plan would actually work.

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We have a government that is supposed to be by the people, for the people and of the people. Who are the people? As I saw some notes elsewhere about the British coronation (personally ignoring it) I thought about our government and that brought me back to this page. We now have a government run by people of a certain class. I think I would be pleased if we had judges and lots of other elected and appointed folks who were "of the people" in general. Let's pay all these folks a good salary, on par with military officers perhaps. This would be enough for "ordinary" people to be able to take the job and then let's look for good people. Let there be consequences for bad conduct. Let's take away lifetime benefits and have term limits, including on SCOTUS. Let's have some turnover and welcome more good, honest people into limited term positions.

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One possibility: In a democracy the people ultimately control the purse. The waitress working double shifts to make $50,000 a year is going to have a hard time understanding why a SCJ can’t make do on $300,000. He/she will express that lack of understanding at the ballot box.

Other possibilities: 1) the founders imagined ours to be a government made of those who had hearts like Cincinnatus 2) They imagined a government made of those who owned land and were independently wealthy (as many of them were).

Another thought: Your idea is often applied to police forces where higher salaries are thought to be a deterrent to the temptation of bribery, theft, corruption, etc. How would you measure the effectiveness of that strategy?

Random thought: In Latin America, Spanish royalty paid their governors with the expectation that the governors would steal anyway – which they did. A lot of chicken-and-eggism there.

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