Texts from Virginia Thomas to Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows over 2020 election prompt Democratic concerns about conflict of interest
Justice Thomas was the lone dissent on Jan. 19 when the court rejected Mr. Trump’s emergency request to block the transfer of White House records to the Jan. 6 committee. He provided no explanation for his vote.
The court later declined to hear Mr. Trump’s case on its regular calendar, after the committee received the materials. No dissents from that decision were noted.
Mr. Meadows released some documents, including text exchanges related to the Jan. 6 attack, to the House committee before it voted in December to deem him in contempt of Congress for declining to obey a subpoena for further documents.
It couldn’t be determined whether the text exchanges between Mr. Meadows and Mrs. Thomas were included in the material Meadows voluntarily released or were part of the records released as a result of the Supreme Court’s January order. It isn’t known whether Justice Thomas was aware of his wife’s contacts with the Trump White House following the election.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.) said that the revelations of Mrs. Thomas’s texts make the justice’s conduct on the Supreme Court look “increasingly corrupt.” He said Justice Thomas should recuse himself from any case related to the Jan. 6 investigation and to the 2024 presidential contest should Mr. Trump run again.
“Judges are obligated to recuse themselves when their participation in a case would create even the appearance of a conflict of interest,” Mr. Wyden said. “A person with an ounce of common sense could see that the bar is met here.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.), asked if Justice Thomas should recuse himself from Jan. 6 cases, said: “No, I think Justice Thomas can make his decisions like he’s made them every other time. It’s his decision, based upon law.”
Under the Supreme Court’s procedures, each justice determines for himself or herself when to be reused, or taken off, deliberations on a case. There is no further review, either by their peers or anyone else.
Federal judges and justices are required by law to disqualify themselves from any proceeding where their impartiality might reasonably be questioned.
Under that standard, said legal ethicist Steven Lubet, Justice Thomas should have sat out lawsuits involving the election results, as well as the Jan. 6 case.
Mrs. Thomas “ought to be able to do whatever she wants to do politically,” said Mr. Lubet, a law professor at Northwestern University. “The question is what the consequences are for Justice Thomas once she makes that decision.”
Mr. Lubet compared the situation to a justice’s spouse holding stock in a company with business before the court. In such cases, justices are required to recuse themselves.
Justice Thomas and Mrs. Thomas didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
In 1995, Justice Thomas reused himself from a case challenging the Virginia Military Institute’s all-male admission policy. The justice’s son, Jamal, was a student at VMI at the time.
In 2003, Justice Antonin Scalia recused himself from an appeal after publicly criticizing a lower court’s finding that the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance amounted to religious indoctrination when received in public school.
The following year, Justice Scalia rejected a motion to disqualify himself from an appeal involving Vice President Dick Cheney, with whom he had gone duck hunting in 2003.
In a March interview with a conservative publication, the Washington Free Beacon, Mrs. Thomas said she attended the Jan. 6 rally that preceded the attack on the Capitol but left before Mr. Trump spoke at noon.
“Like so many married couples, we share many of the same ideals, principles, and aspirations for America,” Mrs. Thomas said. “But we have our own separate careers, and our own ideas and opinions too. Clarence doesn’t discuss his work with me, and I don’t involve him in my work.”
Mrs. Thomas told the publication she was “disappointed and frustrated” that violence followed “a peaceful gathering of Trump supporters on the Ellipse on Jan. 6.” She said “important and legitimate substantive questions” remained regarding “goals like electoral integrity, racial equality, and political accountability.”
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