Thomas scrutiny intensifies after latest revelations

·6 min read
Justice Clarence Thomas
Justice Clarence Thomas


Justice Clarence Thomas faces mounting ethical questions after reports of his wife's aggressive effort to help overturn former President Trump's electoral defeat have intensified scrutiny over the justice's refusal to step aside from related cases before the Supreme Court.

In the weeks following the 2020 election, Virginia "Ginni" Thomas, the justice's wife, reportedly exchanged dozens of text messages with then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows that appeared to show her strategizing over how to bypass the will of American voters to install Trump for a second White House term despite his loss to President Biden, an outcome she described as an "obvious fraud" and "the greatest heist of our history."

The latest development, reported Thursday by The Washington Post and CBS, comes a week after Ginni Thomas revealed in an interview that she had participated in the pro-Trump "Stop the Steal" rally that preceded the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.

During roughly the same post-election time frame, Clarence Thomas declined to recuse himself from numerous pro-Trump legal challenges that contested the 2020 results. And earlier this year, he cast the lone dissenting vote from a Supreme Court ruling that cleared the way for the House committee probing the Jan. 6 insurrection to obtain Trump White House records.

"Today's revelations mean that now, beyond any doubt, Justice Thomas must recuse from any Supreme Court cases or petitions related to the Jan. 6 Committee or efforts to overturn the election," Gabe Roth, executive director of the left-leaning court-reform advocacy group Fix The Court, said after the Thursday report.

"Ginni's direct participation in this odious anti-democracy work, coupled with the new reporting that seems to indicate she may have spoken to Justice Thomas about it, leads to the conclusion that the justice's continued participation in cases related to these efforts would only further tarnish the court's already fading public reputation," he said.

The Supreme Court's public information office and Ginni Thomas did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Critics say the new details, while shocking, are part of a years-long pattern whereby Ginni Thomas's political activity has posed an ethically troubling overlap with her husband's judicial position and raised questions about his impartiality.

Supreme Court justices - unlike judges on lower federal courts - are not bound by a code of conduct and are permitted to decide for themselves whether recusal is appropriate.

In Clarence Thomas's three decades on the bench, he has never stepped aside from a case due to a real or perceived conflict of interest resulting from his wife's political activities, according to an analysis by the progressive court reform advocacy group Take Back the Court.

But the couple's latest entanglement, which comes as the Supreme Court has seen its public image battered in recent years, has drawn particularly intense ire, with some calling for Thomas to resign or even be forced off the court.

"Clarence Thomas needs to be impeached," Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) wrote on Twitter in the hours after news of Ginni Thomas's text exchanges with Meadows surfaced.

That call was echoed by progressive groups like Women's March.

"The revelations that Ginni Thomas advocated for the overthrow of our democracy are disqualifying - not just for her as a human being of any decency, but for her husband Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas," the group's executive Rachel O'Leary Carmona said in a statement.

Among the 29 texts exchanged between Ginni Thomas and Meadows was a message dated Nov. 10 - a week after Election Day - in which, according to the Post, Ginni Thomas wrote: "Help This Great President stand firm, Mark!!!...You are the leader, with him, who is standing for America's constitutional governance at the precipice. The majority knows Biden and the Left is attempting the greatest Heist of our History."

The report noted that Ginni Thomas may have been in contact with other Trump White House personnel, citing a Nov. 13 text to Meadows in which she mentions reaching out to "Jared," which may refer to Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and a former senior White House adviser.

"Just forwarded to yr gmail an email I sent Jared this am," the text reads, according to the Post. "Sidney Powell & improved coordination now will help the cavalry come and Fraud exposed and America saved."

Sidney Powell was among the most prominent pro-Trump attorneys who filed numerous post-election legal challenges and frequently took to the airwaves to amplify Trump's lie that the vote was rigged against him.

According to the Post's report, a Nov. 24 text exchange showed Ginni Thomas expressing a sense of reassurance after having "a conversation with my best friend" and receiving Meadows's vow that the "fight of good versus evil" would continue - an apparent reference to the ongoing effort to overturn Biden's victory.

"This is a fight of good versus evil," Meadows wrote, according to the Post. "Evil always looks like the victor until the King of Kings triumphs. Do not grow weary in well doing. The fight continues. I have staked my career on it. Well at least my time in DC on it." The report states that Thomas replied: "Thank you!! Needed that! This plus a conversation with my best friend just now... I will try to keep holding on. America is worth it!"

It was not immediately clear to whom Ginni was referring as her "best friend," though she and Clarence Thomas have publicly used that term to refer to each other.

As Ginni Thomas worked to help nullify Biden's electoral win, Clarence Thomas continued to preside on the Supreme Court, never once recusing himself from post-election litigation that reached justices. An analysis by The Hill determined that, between November 2020 and February 2022, Thomas participated in at least nine such rulings without any indication of him recusing.

According to the Post, the Ginni Thomas-Meadows correspondence contains an unexplained gap between Nov. 24, 2020, and Jan. 10, 2021, making it difficult to determine how closely linked Ginni Thomas's efforts might have been to the three election-related rulings Clarence Thomas participated in during this time.

In January of this year, Clarence Thomas raised eyebrows as the only justice who indicated that he would have granted Trump's request to keep a trove of his administration's records under wraps. That 8-1 ruling came in a dispute over an effort by the House committee investigating the circumstances of the Jan. 6 attack to obtain Trump-era records from the National Archives.

It was not immediately clear whether any communications from Ginni Thomas to Meadows or any other Trump White House officials were at stake in the case. Meadows handed over 2,320 text messages, including the 29 with Thomas, directly to the Jan. 6 House committee in response to their request.

An attorney for Meadows, George Terwilliger III, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Critics say that in light of his wife's political activities, Clarence Thomas should have recused himself from that case and future matters tied to the Jan. 6 attack. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) on Friday went further, adding that Thomas should be recused from any cases related to the 2024 election should Trump run again.

"In light of new reporting from numerous outlets, Justice Thomas' conduct on the Supreme Court looks increasingly corrupt," he said. "Judges are obligated to recuse themselves when their participation in a case would create even the appearance of a conflict of interest. A person with an ounce of commonsense could see that bar is met here."