Ginni Thomas texts spark calls for Clarence Thomas to recuse himself from election cases

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Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., is among those calling on Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to recuse himself from any 2020 election cases amid revelations that his wife, Ginni, sent text messages to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows urging him to help overturn the results.

"This is a textbook case," Klobuchar said on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday. “You cannot have a justice hearing cases related to this election, and, in fact, the ethics rules that apply to all the other federal judges say that if it involves a family member — appearance of impartiality — they have to recuse themselves.”

Klobuchar is right: Ethics rules that apply to all other federal judges do not apply to those on the nation's high court. As a result, Clarence Thomas is under no obligation to recuse himself from any case that comes before the court, regardless of any connection he may have to it.

The Supreme Court's nine justices are the only judges in the United States — state or federal — not governed by a code of ethical conduct. The distinction has led to repeated calls for the court to clarify the ethics stand­ards that apply to the justices’ beha­vior.

Supreme Court justices all stand, including Clarence Thomas, who is in conversation with Chief Justice John Roberts.
Supreme Court justices, including Clarence Thomas (center), await the arrival of President George H.W. Bush's casket inside the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, Dec. 3, 2018. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Ginni Thomas is a longtime Republican activist, and her husband is widely seen as the leading conservative justice on the high court. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., said Sunday that what he called the "Thomas affair" is another clear example of why a reform of the Supreme Court's ethics rules is called for.

"I have a lot of frustrations with the Supreme Court as a whole that they have not taken better measures to police themselves," Booker said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "There are ethics rules that they hold lower courts responsible for that they don't put upon themselves.

"I think most of America doesn't understand that I could be a justice and I could give a paid speech in front of a group that has either a direct matter in front of the Supreme Court or amicus briefs in front of the Supreme Court," Booker continued. "And I think that they need to use this Thomas affair as an opportunity to change their ethics rules."

Last week, reports surfaced that Ginni Thomas had repeatedly texted Meadows in the weeks following the 2020 election, urging him to support then-President Donald Trump’s efforts to remain in power. At the time, Trump and his allies were vowing to take their case to the Supreme Court.

"Help This Great President stand firm, Mark!!!" she wrote to Meadows in a message dated Nov. 10, 2020. "Biden and the Left is [sic] attempting the greatest Heist of our History."

"I will stand firm," Meadows replied. "We will fight until there is no fight left. Our country is too precious to give up on. Thanks for all you do."

The messages were among the 2,320 that Meadows provided to the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. Ginni Thomas recently confirmed that she had attended the nearby "Stop the Steal" rally that preceded the riot but did not participate in the assault. She said she left the event before Trump urged the crowd to march on the Capitol.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas arrives with his wife, Ginni, for a state dinner at the White House.
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas arrives with his wife, Ginni, for a state dinner at the White House in 2019. (Erin Scott/Reuters)

“At the bare minimum, Justice Thomas needs to recuse himself from any case related to the Jan. 6 investigation," Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said Friday, "and should Donald Trump run again, any case related to the 2024 election.”

The Washington Post reported Monday that the Jan. 6 committee will seek an interview with Ginni Thomas, yet another reason critics say her husband should recuse himself from cases related to the panel's probe.

Meanwhile, Clarence Thomas participated in arguments at the Supreme Court remotely on Monday after a stint of nearly a week in the hospital. The court was considering a case involving a federal law that protects railroad workers.

Thomas, 73, was admitted to Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, D.C., on March 18 after experiencing “flu-like symptoms” and was being treated for an undisclosed infection. He was discharged on Friday morning, the court said.

Although the court’s ethics rules are murky, justices do recuse themselves on occasion. On Monday, for example, Justice Amy Coney Barrett refrained from partaking in arguments because she had been involved in the case being discussed before she was confirmed to the Supreme Court.

Thomas has recused himself before, too, in 1995 from a case involving a school his son attended.