Calls for Recusals, Resignations, and Even Impeachment: Democrats Escalate Ethics Campaign Around Clarence Thomas

What are Democrats to do about Clarence Thomas? Following further revelations about wife Ginni Thomas‘s involvement in efforts to undermine Joe Biden‘s 2020 election victory – including her conspiratorial text messages to former Donald Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows – Democrats have been exploring ways to handle the massive ethical concerns swirling around the conservative Supreme Court justice. But the party has yet to settle on a response, with lawmakers divided over what they can – and should – do to hold Thomas to account and maintain the credibility of the court.

A handful of progressives, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spirit Ilhan Omar, have suggested Thomas should be impeached. “This is a tipping point,” the New York representative wrote Tuesday. “Inaction is a decision to erode and further delegitimize SCOTUS.” Others have called for him to resign or at the very least recuse himself from matters related to the insurrection January 6. “I always thought he should recuse himself,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters on Monday. But party leaders have also suggested there are limits to what they themselves can do about it.

“It’s up to an individual justice,” Pelosi reportedly told Democratic colleagues in a closed-door meeting Tuesday, “to decide to recuse himself if his wife is participating in a coup.”

Senator Elizabeth Warren and 23 congressional colleagues wrote a letter earlier this week demanding Thomas “immediately issue a written explanation for his failure to recuse himself” from previous 2020 election cases and to “promptly recuse himself from any future Supreme Court cases” involving the efforts to overturn Trump’s reelection loss. The letter also called on Chief Justice John Roberts to “create a binding Code of Conduct for the Supreme Court” by the end of April. “Chief Justice Roberts has often spoken about the importance of the Supreme Court’s credibility and legitimacy as an institution,” Warren and the two dozen Democratic signatories wrote. “That trust, already at all-time lows with the American public, must be earned.”

Ginni Thomas’ right-wing activism has long fueled conflict of interest questions about her husband, the high court’s senior conservative. But those concerns have intensified in recent weeks after she admitted to attending one of the rallies preceding the January 6 attack on the United States Capitol and the Washington Post last week published texts she sent to Meadows parroting election fraud conspiracy theories and urging him to “Help This Great President stand firm.”

“The majority knows Biden and the Left is attempting the greatest Heist of our History,” Ginni Thomas wrote Trump’s chief of staff after news outlets called the election for Biden November 10.

Thomas’s endorsement of wild conspiracy theories – and her engagement after the 2020 election with congressional Republicans and the Trump White House, possibly including the former president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner – have further undermined any claim to non-partisanship Clarence Thomas may have had, and raised doubts about his ability to fairly preside over January 6 cases – including Trump’s effort to withhold records from the House select committee investigating the riot, which the Supreme Court rejected in January, with Thomas the lone dissent. (That committee, led by Representative Bennie Thompsonis expected to call on Ginni Thomas to testify.)

Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumerand Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin have all called for Thomas to remove himself from January 6 cases. Meanwhile, two lawmakers – Senator Chris Murphy and Representative Hank Johnsonwho has suggested Thomas resign – are renewing calls to pass the Supreme Court Ethics Act, which they reintroduced last year to “reverse some of the dangerous politicization of the Supreme Court that we’ve seen in the past, and build public trust in the independence and integrity” of the court. “Now is the time to pass it,” Murphy said wrote.

But it is not clear what will come of the Democrats’ pressure on Thomas or their broader demands for ethics reforms on the nation’s high court. Republicans have dismissed Thomas’ conflicts of interest, framing it as an effort by Democrats to “delegitimize the Supreme Court” and attack one of its most conservative judges. “It’s a coordinated effort to nullify the presence of Justice Clarence Thomas on the court,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in floor remarks Wednesday, describing calls for his recusal as “inappropriate.” (Other Republicans have called on Democrats to keep family members out of politics, even as they invoke Hunter Biden in their attacks on Democrats.) And based on Pelosi’s pointed comments in the closed-door meeting Tuesday, which came in response to a question from Ocasio-Cortez, it’s not clear how much interest Democratic leaders have in going beyond their calls that Thomas recuses himself – a measure the justice has shown no inclination for taking.

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