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Clarence Thomas, Constitution Turns 225
Justice Clarence Thomas speaks at the Library of Congress. Photo credit: Earl McDonald / Wikimedia

After missing a day on the bench without explanation, Clarence Thomas was back on Tuesday for oral arguments in a case from which he should have recused himself.

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Clarence Thomas is a man on a mission. Well, multiple missions, actually. The one that has been apparent since he joined the Supreme Court is that he would use his position to advance conservative causes. That in itself does not make him an outlier on the bench. Ideology often factors into how both conservative and liberal justices rule.

Last year, we learned that what does set him apart (at least hopefully) is the way in which he accepted lavish gifts from rich right-wing benefactors, including some who had business before the court, without reporting them. 

On Tuesday, during the oral arguments in a case involving whether January 6 insurrectionists can be charged with obstruction, he demonstrated that his latest mission seems to be the destruction of whatever credibility the high court has left.

That’s because he shouldn’t have been anywhere near that courtroom. 

If there has ever been a case in which a justice should have recused himself but didn’t, this would be it. 

The reason is that Thomas’s wife, Ginny, participated in the January 6 rally that led to the insurrection and was also involved in other parts of Donald Trump’s coup attempt, e.g., by sending emails to multiple lawmakers in states the former president lost to urge them to come up with alternate slates of electors.

In a world in which the law is applied evenly, that means she could also be charged with obstruction.

Now, those defending Thomas might argue that his wife didn’t assault any policy officers or storm Congress. That’s true.

However, what is at stake in the case is not just whether some charges brought against more than 300 insurrectionists would have to be dropped, but also whether Trump himself can be charged with obstruction for trying to overturn the results of the 2020 election — an effort Ginni Thomas was involved in.

During the oral arguments, her husband tried to compare the insurrection to other types of “protest” even though it was unique in the history of the United States. 

“There have been many violent protests that have interfered with proceedings,” Thomas said during the hearing. “Has the government applied this provision to other protests in the past?”

Well, no, but no other president (and likely no other spouse of a Supreme Court justice) has ever been involved in an attempted coup, so this is uncharted territory. 

Some ethics groups called out Thomas but were muted in their criticism. 

“There’s a case to be made that Justice Thomas should have recused given his wife, Ginni Thomas’s, role pushing the Big Lie which led to the insurrection,” tweeted the group Citizens for Ethics. “At the least, it raises questions about his impartiality.”

Others were less shy about calling out Thomas. 

“Ginni Thomas was directly involved in efforts to overturn the 2020 election,” tweeted former Labor Secretary Robert Reich. “Yet Clarence Thomas didn’t recuse himself from arguments today in a case about the January 6 insurrection. How is this not a scandal of epic proportions?”

That’s a good question. Too bad that neither of the Thomases will ever provide an answer. 

Author

  • Klaus Marre

    Klaus Marre is a writer, editor, former congressional reporter, and director of the WhoWhatWhy Mentor Apprentice Program. Follow him on Twitter @KlausMarre.

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