Clarence Thomas pressed to recuse himself from Jan. 6 cases

By: - March 30, 2022 5:50 am

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas sits with his wife and conservative activist Virginia Thomas while he waits to speak at the Heritage Foundation on October 21, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Two dozen congressional Democrats are calling for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to recuse himself from cases involving the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, following revelations his wife communicated with the Trump White House about overturning the election.

In addition, it appears likely that the U.S. House committee probing the attack will ask Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, a Nebraska native and longtime conservative activist, to answer questions about her recently disclosed text messages as the panel’s investigation steps up.

In a Monday letter to Chief Justice John Roberts and Thomas, the 24 Democrats from both chambers of Congress cited recently published texts between Ginni Thomas and then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, a former North Carolina congressman.

The Democrats said the texts present a serious conflict of interest for Clarence Thomas and a court that is unique in not being governed by a code of ethics.

In the 29 texts, first reported by the Washington Post and CBS News, Ginni Thomas urged Meadows to resist the results of the 2020 election: “Help This Great President stand firm, Mark!!!…You are the leader, with him, who is standing for America’s constitutional governance at the precipice. The majority knows Biden and the Left is attempting the greatest Heist of our History.”

Many of former President Donald Trump’s supporters, including those who breached the Capitol on Jan. 6, contend the election was somehow stolen, though there is no evidence to support the claim.

The correspondence, given to the Jan. 6 panel by Meadows, documents a closer relationship between Ginni Thomas and the White House than was previously known, though she had publicly advocated for Trump and allies to try to reverse the election results.

The texts “raise serious questions about Justice Thomas’s participation in cases before the Supreme Court involving the 2020 election and the January 6th insurrection,” the congressional Democrats wrote.

Clarence Thomas, the longest-serving member of the court and a stalwart member of its conservative wing, was the only justice to disagree with a ruling allowing the Jan. 6 committee access to Trump White House records.

He did not disclose at the time his wife’s activism on the issue, or that her messages could be part of the records being sought.

In addition to Thomas recusing himself from future cases, the lawmakers said the court should adopt a formal code of ethics to govern future situations. They asked for Roberts to commit to creating a “binding Code of Conduct” by April 28. The Supreme Court is the only court in the country that is not formally governed by any code of ethics, they said.

The Democrats also asked for a written explanation from Thomas for why he declined to recuse himself from the case concerning White House records.

The group was led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington. No members of Congress from Nevada signed on to the letter.

Johnson also is calling for legislation to be passed which would require the Judicial Conference of the United States to create a code of ethical conduct for the Supreme Court.

Representatives for the court did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

In the texts, Ginni Thomas professed beliefs in far-right conspiracy theories, including that Trump had watermarked ballots to track potential fraud and that supporters of Joe Biden would face military tribunals for sedition at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

She also provided unsolicited advice to Meadows about Trump’s legal team and strategy as the lame-duck president sought to challenge the election in court.

Meadows was generally supportive of Thomas’ efforts, but noncommittal about her specific recommendations.

“I will stand firm,” he wrote in a Nov. 10 text. “We will fight until there is no fight left. Our country is too precious to give up on. Thanks for all you do.”

Though he did not sign the Democrats’ letter, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters Tuesday Clarence Thomas should recuse himself from future cases involving Jan. 6.

Other Democrats, including Johnson and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have gone further and called for Justice Thomas to resign or be impeached.

Committee action

The House Jan. 6 committee is considering questioning Ginni Thomas, according to media reports.

CNN reported Monday that “most” members of the committee favor questioning her.

Members of the panel, which is made up of seven Democrats and two Republicans, did not discuss that possibility in a Monday evening meeting.

A spokesman for committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., did not respond to a message seeking comment Tuesday. A spokesman for committee Vice Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., declined to comment.

The panel on Monday did adopt a report recommending that the U.S. House cite Daniel Scavino, Jr. and Peter Navarro, both Trump administration officials, for criminal contempt of Congress. If the House agrees, the referral would be sent to the Department of Justice.

‘Coup in search of a legal theory’

Several cases involving the 2020 election and its aftermath are working their way through federal courts.

A federal judge found Monday that Trump and legal adviser John Eastman likely broke the law in their efforts to challenge the 2020 election.

U.S. District Judge Court Judge David O. Carter ordered Eastman to hand over documents to the Jan. 6 panel, denying Eastman’s claim for attorney-client privilege because that privilege does not extend to unlawful acts.

“Dr. Eastman and President Trump launched a campaign to overturn a democratic election, an action unprecedented in American history,” the judge wrote.

“Their campaign was not confined to the ivory tower — it was a coup in search of a legal theory. The plan spurred violent attack on the seat of our nation’s government, led to the death of several law enforcement officers, and deepened public distrust in our political process.”

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Jacob Fischler
Jacob Fischler

Jacob covers federal policy as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. Based in Oregon, he focuses on Western issues. His coverage areas include climate, energy development, public lands and infrastructure.

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