Ms. Thomas' $686,000: 'Spousal income? WHAT spousal income?' --The politics of the U.S. Supreme Court

By Kimberly Atkins

The Daily Record Newswire

Usually when members of a branch of government come under fire for alleged politicized activities in Washington, it's either the folks in the White House or at the Capitol who are in the hot seat.

But as lawmakers were planning an unusual display of bipartisanship for the president's State of the Union speech, members of the third and usually least political branch of government are the ones spurring charges of political bias: the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the latest in a series of recent challenges to justices' actions, the liberal watchdog group Common Cause has accused Justice Clarence Thomas of failing to disclose his wife's income from conservative organizations over the past five years on financial disclosure forms he is required to submit.

According to The Los Angeles Times, Thomas checked a box labeled ''none'' where ''spousal noninvestment income'' would be disclosed despite the fact that Virginia Thomas earned, in Common Cause's estimation, in excess of $686,000 from the Heritage Foundation and Liberty Central, the conservative group she helped found.

The charge comes after the group asked the Justice Department to investigate Justices Antonin Scalia and Thomas for possible conflicts of interest based on the justices' appearance at a conservative retreat several years ago.

Meanwhile, Scalia is set to speak at a closed-door session with some of the newest members of Congress later today, an event dubbed a "Conservative Constitutional Seminar" organized by GOP Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann.

That move has also raised eyebrows, with critics charging that Scalia is cozying up to Tea Partiers.

And political watchers were looking to see which justices showed up to the State of the Union address, given comments from several of the justices about their discomfort with its political atmosphere.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. likened the event to a ''political pep rally,'' and Justice Samuel Alito, who caused a controversy for expressing displeasure during the event last year, said he'd probably skip it this year.

All these factors add up to what some call the most politicized Supreme Court in decades.

''It's a significant phenomenon,'' University of Pittsburgh law professor Arthur Hellman told USA Today.

''It wasn't happening 20 years ago.''

Published: Thu, Jan 27, 2011