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Democrats mobilize over Clarence Thomas ethics investigation

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Clarence and Ginni Thomas (Charles Dharapak/AP)

Forty-six House Democrats have joined forces this week to ask the chamber's Judiciary Committee to investigate Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas for ethics violations. The Democratic lawmakers' complaint argues that reports of Thomas' actions--including those related to the high-profile political activism of his wife, Virginia "Ginni" Thomas--have raised concerns about potential conflicts of interest.

"Public records clearly demonstrate that Justice Thomas has failed to accurately disclose information concerning the income and employment status of his wife, as required by law," Democrats led by Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) wrote in a letter (pdf) Wednesday to leaders of the Judiciary Committee. The Democrats also question whether Thomas accurately reported gifts and inappropriately solicited donations.

Blumenauer's office confirmed to The Ticket Thursday afternoon that 46 lawmakers have signed on.

Liberal watchdog group Common Cause recently reported that Thomas' wife earned around $1.6 million between 1997 and 2011--and that Justice Thomas did not report her income over the same time span. Thomas said he "inadvertently" failed to file information on wife's employment "due to a misunderstanding of the filing instructions."

A Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg told the Huffington Post this week that justices are not required to disclose the amount earned by spouses--only the source of their spouses' income.

But Democrats argue that Thomas may have been intentionally withholding the information.

"There is now more than enough evidence to merit a formal inquiry as to whether Justice Thomas willfully failed to make legally required disclosures, perhaps for as long as 13 years," Common Cause president Bob Edgar said in a statement Wednesday. "Given that we now know he correctly completed the reports in prior years, it's hardly plausible--indeed, it's close to unbelievable--that Justice Thomas did not understand the instructions."

Democrats contend that the Supreme Court's protocols for such disclosures should be more transparent. "Because the Court continues to operate without a binding code of ethics or a transparent recusal process, it is time for Congress to exercise its Constitutional role and become involved in this process," Blumenauer said in a statement.

Ginni Thomas has become embroiled in several scandals over the past year.

In Oct. 2010, Thomas made headlines for calling the office of Anita Hill-- the woman who gained national exposure 20 years ago when she testified during Clarence Thomas' confirmation hearing that the nominee sexually harassed her. In last year's call, Ginni Thomas left a voicemail message seeking an apology from Hill.

Soon after, Ginni Thomas stepped down from conservative group Liberty Central, which she founded, citing "distractions" caused by her celebrity.

Her role at Liberty Central and her work with other conservative advocacy groups had raised questions about possible conflicts-of-interest for her spouse. The New York Times' Jackie Calmes last year said Thomas had "the most partisan role ever for a spouse of a justice on the nation's highest court."

Common Cause reports that most of the undisclosed funds earned by Ginni Thomas came from the conservative Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank based in Washington.

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