Tag Archives: Clarence Thomas

Clarence And Ginni

A newsletter from TNR summed up my astonishment over recent revelations detailing the extent of Ginni Thomas’ involvement in the Big Lie. (I can never find URLs for newsletters–sorry about that.)

That stunning Washington Post piece by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa about Ginni Thomas’s text messages to Mark Meadows needs to be read at least twice to take in the full measure of corruption and venality it conveys. Here were people trying to overturn American democracy, saying that this was not politics but war—oh, and while saying all this, invoking the name of Jesus Christ.

The New Yorker described the reaction of legal ethicists to the revelation that Virginia (Ginni) Thomas–wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas–“colluded extensively with a top White House adviser about overturning Joe Biden’s defeat of then President Donald Trump.”

On March 24th, the Washington Post and CBS News reported that they had copies of twenty-nine text messages between Ginni Thomas and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. In those texts, she urged Meadows to help invalidate the results of the Presidential election, and employed QAnon conspiracy theories to justify her assertion that the election was an “obvious fraud.”

It was necessary, she told Meadows, to “release the Kraken and save us from the left taking America down.” Ginni Thomas’s texts to Meadows also refer to conversations that she’d had with “Jared”—possibly Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who also served as a senior adviser to the Administration. (“Just forwarded to yr gmail an email I sent Jared this am.”)

Not surprisingly, the legal ethicists quoted in the New Yorker article were aghast; all of them agreed that–at a minimum–Clarence Thomas would have to recuse himself from participating in any case involving Trump, January 6th or the election. (In any sane political environment, these revelations would immediately generate an impeachment of Thomas, but given the extent to which partisanship reigns supreme in today’s Senate, the prospects of that outcome seem dim.)

Supreme Court Justices aren’t bound by the judicial code of conduct that applies to all other federal judges, which mandates that they recuse themselves from participating in any cases in which personal entanglements could cause a fair-minded member of the public to doubt their impartiality. Yet Justices are subject to a federal law that prohibits them from hearing cases in which their spouses have “an interest that could be substantially affected by the outcome of the proceeding.” The statute, 28 U.S.C. section 455, also requires them to disqualify themselves from any proceedings in which their “impartiality might reasonably be questioned.”

Some of us have questioned Clarence Thomas’ “impartiality” for many years; the recent disclosures would seem to vindicate our suspicions.

Clarence Thomas was the only Justice to dissent from a Supreme Court decision allowing the House investigative committee to obtain records of Trump’s communications relating to the 2020 election results. It is very possible that those records included communications implicating Ginni Thomas in improper or illegal activities. And Thomas strongly dissented when the Court refused to hear a case filed by Pennsylvania Republicans trying to disqualify mail-in ballots.

Richard Hasen, an expert in election law who teaches at the University of California, Irvine, also believes that Justice Thomas should never have participated in the case weighing whether Congress had the right to review Trump’s papers. Hasen told me, “Given Ginni Thomas’s deep involvement in trying to subvert the outcome of the 2020 election based upon outlandish claims of voter fraud, and her work on this with not only activists but the former President’s chief of staff, Justice Thomas should not have heard any cases” involving disputes over the 2020 election or Congress’s investigation of the January 6th riots. 

A post at Juanita Jean addressed the “coincidence” of Clarence Thomas’ recent hospitalization and emergence of these texts.The post noted that, despite repeated press attempts to get information about the infection that landed Thomas in the hospital,  the requests have been met with silence.–a very unusual circumstance when the health of a Supreme Court Justice is at issue. (Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s every sniffle was reported.)

 Gallup polling shows confidence in the Court hitting an all-time low–continuing a slide that began with the partisan decision in Bush v. Gore, and accelerating through the theft of what should have been Merrick Garland’s seat and the subsequent elevation of a frat-boy beer lover and a cultish theocrat to the high court.

A column from the New York Times sums it up

Yes, married people can lead independent professional lives, and it is not a justice’s responsibility to police the actions of his or her spouse. But the brazenness with which the Thomases have flouted the most reasonable expectations of judicial rectitude is without precedent. From the Affordable Care Act to the Trump administration’s Muslim ban to the 2020 election challenges, Ms. Thomas has repeatedly embroiled herself in big-ticket legal issues and with litigants who have wound up before her husband’s court. All the while, he has looked the other way, refusing to recuse himself from any of these cases. For someone whose job is about judging, Justice Thomas has, in this context at least, demonstrated abominably poor judgment.

 

 

Appearances of Impropriety

Yesterday, following the announcement of the Recount Commission’s finding that Charlie White had been eligible to run for Secretary of State (or, more accurately, their conclusion that they couldn’t conclusively prove otherwise), I got a call from a reporter. Her question was not about the Commission’s conclusion; instead, she wanted to know whether the chair should have recused himself from the deliberations, since he had hosted a fundraiser for White, and his firm had donated $5000 to White’s campaign.

My answer, of course, was yes.

It is perfectly possible that–as he claimed–the contribution and prior support did not influence the chairman’s decision. But that is irrelevant. The facts of the matter raised an appearance of impropriety, and that appearance alone was enough to require recusal. Citizens have to be able to trust that their public institutions are operating impartially and fairly; otherwise, suspicion and cynicism will undermine our faith in the legitimacy of government and erode respect for–and compliance with–the laws.

Instances of what we might call “ethical insensitivity” seem to be proliferating: recently, commentators have reported on activities of Clarence Thomas (and especially his wife) that raise serious questions about the Judge’s impartiality. A couple of years ago, Justice Scalia shrugged off criticism of his cozy vacation with Dick Cheney during a time when a lawsuit against Cheney was pending at the Supreme Court.  Closer to home, we have the President of the City-County Council insisting that his vote to award a lucrative city contract to a client of his law firm did not constitute a conflict of interest.

In each of these cases–and many others–the person accused of a conflict insisted that the relationship at issue didn’t affect his judgment. Perhaps it did, perhaps it didn’t. But that isn’t the point. The point is that such relationships inevitably cast doubt on the integrity of the proceeding.

Think about it: If you were a party in a lawsuit, and you knew that the opposing party regularly played poker with the judge, and had supported him politically, how confident would you be that the Judge’s ultimate ruling would be impartial?   Wouldn’t you ask for a change of venue, or a different judge? If you were a taxpayer whose elected representative was voting to spend your tax dollars on a deal that benefited his brother-in-law, or a big client, how confident would you be that he cast that vote based solely on policy considerations?

And how reassured would you be if such public servants pooh-poohed your reservations?