An insider story about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is shared by Devra Lee Davis, controversial expert on environmental causes of cancer, in her forthcoming book, "The Secret History of the War on Cancer." Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas is again in the news due his dissent in the eminent domain case, Kelo et al. v. City of New London et al., which deals with property rights and community integrity. (Read about Thomas' dissent: "Public works projects in the 1950's and 1960's destroyed predominantly minority communities..." etc.) See my ADDENEDUM ON KELO.
Dr. Davis recalls Clarence Thomas from when he was chief legal counsel to Senator Danforth (at right). Thomas lent support in 1980 to the Superfund clean-up law (CERCLA), designed for communities threatened by hazardous waste sites. Thomas was especially helpful after an attack by the chemical industry fronted by the DC law firm Covington and Burling. She writes:
"All 100 Senators had received a detailed memo from the law firm of Covington and Burling that alleged that our report on human health damage from toxics was fatally flawed. … Clarence Thomas was one of those who cared a great deal about this issue. He spoke quietly about his own understanding of pollution in African American communities. .… in November, 1980, I was called back to meet with Senators and staff in a flurry of activities aimed at convincing the new government to accept the proposed Superfund Law. The law's sponsors believed that this major new act would provide for massive funding needed to clean up sites such as Triana* and Times Beach, by taxing those polluters with what were called the deepest pockets-those with the most money left. Whatever objections the legal memo had been believed to carry about our research on compensation for victims of toxic pollution seemed to vaporize. The Superfund law passed only after those like Senator Danforth and Clarence Thomas advised the incoming president's newly forming staff that this law would be better than what else they could end up with later on." (emphasis added)
Dr. Davis also discloses how, a decade later, she accidentally met the chemical industry lobbyist behind the Covington and Burling memo: "Ed Frost, former Vice President of the Chemical Manufacturer's Association, the very fellow who had commissioned the Covington and Burling memo on our study. …" said to me:
"Listen, I really owe you an apology. My daughter has convinced me that we need to do better on these things. I know that we should not have been so heavy handed in going after that report you all did on toxic pollution in those communities. You guys did a pretty decent job on a hard topic. But that was just how the game was played, you know." (emphasis added)
Read the whole excerpt from her book in the latest Canfei Nesharim newsletter, published today by an Orthodox Jewish environmental group.
Ok, now I need to return to daf yomi (Talmud study). The rabbinic text seems completely unrelated to the stories above about corporate lobbying on toxic pollution. Still, there may be an odd metaphorical connection. We're reading about shabbat as a day of rest for animals, too. So, can various animals be let out in public tightly leashed, restrained in a halter, with its udders tied up, put under a saddle? This discussion makes me wonder:
What happens to people like Clarence Thomas, Ed Frost and each of us, how do we act privately and how do we act after we are leashed to new jobs, e.g., Supreme Court Justice or corporate lobbyist? Comments welcome.
* Robert Bullard on Triana: " 'Black Love Canals' exist and many go unnoticed. A case in point is the contamination of Triana, a small, all-black town in northern Alabama. .. Some of the residents were contaminated with the highest levels of DDT ever recorded." Read more here. Thomas/Danforth photo: source.