John N Kennedy 050223

U.S. Sen. John N. Kennedy, R-Madisonville, on May 2, 2023.

As a proven loyalist deep in Donald Trump territory, U.S. Sen. John Kennedy is sitting pretty.

He is very popular with Washington reporters, affecting a folksy public persona that keeps the quotable wisecracks coming. As he approaches his 72nd birthday, having been comfortably reelected last year, he seems set to remain in office for as long as he likes.

That fortunate position offers Kennedy the opportunity to quit playing the partisan hack. A public official with his education and experience could do much for the common weal if he weren't fixated on mudslinging. If he suddenly turned into Mr. Nice Guy, though, such is the political climate these days that they'd probably have him committed.

Kennedy is a lawyer who holds degrees from Vanderbilt, the University of Virginia and Magdalen College in Oxford, England. He was Louisiana's state treasurer for 17 years, and, as a Democrat-turned-Republican, should know what it takes to inspire interparty co-operation.

Sadly, goodwill rarely extends across the aisle these days, and Kennedy has succumbed to the petty, backbiting mood of contemporary American politics. The latest chapter in what is an increasingly ugly row concerns the U.S. Supreme Court, and Justice Clarence Thomas in particular.

Supreme Court justices are not subject to a formal code of ethics, presumably on the somewhat panglossian assumption that they would not have been appointed unless they were known to be fastidious in matters of financial probity. Justices are, however, required to disclose financial dealings that might pose a conflict with their official duties. Thomas, the court's champion freeloader, has by no means always complied.

Thomas seems never to have had any qualms about accepting real-estate magnate Harlan Crow's largesse, and has claimed, somewhat predictably, that his failures to file the required disclosures were an oversight.

Crow's largesse was evidently hard to forget, however. Thomas, for instance. might recover from the rigors of a court term by flying together with his wife in Crow's private plane to Indonesia, where Crow's 162-foot superyacht stood ready to take the party on a nine-day tour of the islands.

This is where Kennedy comes in. We are aware of Thomas' glaring ethical lapses thanks in part to the efforts of federal judge Mark Wolf, who, as an appointee of Ronald Reagan, can hardly be accused of left-wing animus. Wolf used to be a particularly zealous member of the Judicial Conference, the policymaking arm of the federal court system. That he played a crucial role in bringing Thomas' omissions to light should have come as no surprise, because he already had form as a whistleblower.

Wolf was the federal judge who in 1998 exposed one of the greatest scandals in the history of the FBI, which turned a blind eye while its underworld informants, Whitey Bulger and Stephen Flemmi, literally got away with murder.

Wolf's reward for exposing Thomas' decades of living high on the hog at Crow's behind-the-scenes expense was a ferocious dressing down at a Senate committee hearing. Kennedy was one of two committee members who tore into Wolf for the distinctly uncollegial act of telling the truth about a pillar of the establishment.

Let no one say Kennedy has no shame, though. As soon as he was done haranguing Wolf, he up and walked out of the room, leaving no time for a response. Such craven antics are highly suggestive of a guilty conscience. Maybe there's hope for him yet.

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