Of all the Supreme Court justices in my memory, none is more defined by his hatreds and complaints than Clarence Thomas. Now, Thomas has written a new, malign chapter in his malevolent, pitiful book of life.
At issue, a falsely imprisoned man, John Thompson, whose death at the hands of the state of Louisiana was only prevented by the deathbed confession of a former prosecutor, who confessed that exculpatory evidence that would have helped Thompson’s case was withheld. After 14 years in prison, multiple courts upheld a multimillion dollar award for Thompson.
Thomas and his pal Tony Scalia couldn’t let that stand. So they overturned the award, and as Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick writes, they did so in callous fashion.
… this week, writing on behalf of the five conservatives on the Supreme Court and in his first majority opinion of the term, Justice Clarence Thomas tossed out the verdict, finding that the district attorney can’t be responsible for the single act of a lone prosecutor. The Thomas opinion is an extraordinary piece of workmanship, matched only by Justice Antonin Scalia’s concurring opinion, in which he takes a few extra whacks at Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent. (Ginsburg was so bothered by the majority decision that she read her dissent from the bench for the first time this term.) Both Thomas and Scalia have produced what can only be described as a master class in human apathy. Their disregard for the facts of Thompson’s thrashed life and near-death emerges as a moral flat line. Scalia opens his concurrence with a swipe at Ginsburg’s “lengthy excavation of the trial record” and states that “the question presented for our review is whether a municipality is liable for a single Brady violation by one of its prosecutors.” But only by willfully ignoring that entire trial record can he and Thomas reduce the entire constitutional question to a single misdeed by a single bad actor.
Both parties to this case have long agreed that an injustice had been done. Connick himself conceded that there had been a Brady violation, yet Scalia finds none. Everyone else concedes that egregious mistakes were made. Scalia struggles to rehabilitate them all.
One of the reasons the truth came to light after 20 years is that Gerry Deegan, a junior assistant D.A. on the Thompson case, confessed as he lay dying of cancer that he had withheld the crime lab test results and removed a blood sample from the evidence room. The prosecutor to whom Deegan confessed said nothing about this for five years. While Scalia pins the wrongdoing on a single “miscreant prosecutor,” Ginsburg correctly notes that “no fewer than five prosecutors” were involved in railroading Thompson. She adds that they “did so despite multiple opportunities, spanning nearly two decades, to set the record straight.” While Thomas states the question as having to do with a “single Brady violation,” Ginsburg is quick to point out that there was far more than just a misplaced blood sample at issue: Thompson was turned in by someone seeking a reward, but prosecutors failed to turn over tapes of that conversation. The eyewitness identification of the killer didn’t match Thompson, but was never shared with defense counsel. The blood evidence was enough to prove a Brady violation, but it was the tip of the iceberg.
In the 10 years preceding Thompson’s trial, Thomas acknowledges, “Louisiana courts had overturned four convictions because of Brady violations by prosecutors in Connick’s office.” Yet somehow this doesn’t add up to a pattern of Brady violations in the office, because the evidence in those other cases wasn’t blood or crime lab evidence. Huh? He then inexplicably asserts that young prosecutors needn’t be trained on Brady violations because they learned everything in law school.
Read the whole thing here.
Perhaps had Mr. Thompson been a corporation, a very rich man, or a tea party front group like the one run by his wife (before she joined the cast of the Daily Caller) Thomas and Scalia would have had more empathy.