Let’s Not Normalize Ginni and Clarence (redux)
The need for ethics on the Supreme Court, especially when a spouse is seeking to abet the overthrow of a democratically elected government, could not be more obvious. So is the need for investigation.
With recent news that Ginni Thomas, wife of Justice Clarence Thomas, tried to convince 29 Arizona lawmakers to deny Joe Biden’s victory and the latest news that she traded emails with Trump legal operative John Eastman, we should demand that Ginni is criminally investigated by the Department of Justice and her husband is at the very least obliged to recuse himself if not forced to resign. As I note below in this post originally published on March 28, “If your wife were aggressively trying to overthrow the government while you’re serving on the Supreme Court, wouldn’t you tell her to cut it out…unless you support that effort?“
Asserting the principal that no one is above the law may seem quaint these days, but that shouldn’t deter us from expecting it or energetically advocating for it. The Jan. 6 House Select Committee has chosen to focus aggressively on the criminal role of Donald Trump—and I’m glad they are—but serving justice will require confronting the significant collection of co-conspirators at every level. There is mounting evidence that included Ginni Thomas.
We humans are remarkably adaptable creatures. It’s amazing what we can learn to live with—conditions of war and violence, sociopaths who angle themselves into elected office to run countries, self-appointed individuals bent on exploiting their access to power to break the trajectory toward an inclusive, pluralistic, democratic future.
Days after the 2016 election I tweeted the following, a comment that I kept pinned at the top of my feed for the next four years. I worried what normalizing a malignant narcissist and demagogue would lead to—and hoped that the majority of Americans could (with constant effort) hold onto the sense of right and wrong, differentiate truth from lies, and help ensure the survival of democracy and human decency.
As we know, many have normalized, including the millions of Americans who think the deadly insurrection and coup attempt was “no big deal” and remain convinced that Joe Biden is not the legitimately elected president and Donald Trump should be re-installed. It’s hard to overstate what the repetition of lies and the constant effort to degrade people’s capacity to know the truth can achieve.
All this has been on my mind since learning about the efforts of Virginia “Ginni” Thomas—the conspiracy-minded wife of a Supreme Court Justice and an anti-democratic, “conservative” activist—to exploit her access to power and support Trump’s planned overthrow of a democratically elected government.
As the wife of Clarence Thomas and armed with the phone number of Trump’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, her proximity to power is clear: The newly published collection of 29 text messages exchanged with Meadows—obtained by The Washington Post and CBS News—reveal that she was hell-bent on exploiting it. They are among the thousands of messages overall that Meadows turned over to the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 attack.
How heated was she about her view of the conspiracy of all conspiracies that was standing in the way of her beloved leader holding onto office? “Help This Great President stand firm, Mark!!!” she texted Meadows on November 10, three days after news organizations declared Biden’s win, adding “The majority knows Biden and the Left is attempting the greatest Heist of our History.”
How motivated was she to keep Trump in power, norms and democracy be damned? Three days after the election, Thomas urged Meadows, “Do not concede. It takes time for the army who is gathering for his back.”
How deep was her conviction of election fraud and her conspiratorial belief in the Big Lie? On November 5, she shared a false QAnon theory that Trump had tracked potential fraud by watermarking mail-in ballots. “Watermarked ballots in over 12 states have been part of a huge Trump & military white hat sting operation in 12 key battleground states,” she wrote to Meadows.
In that same message, she quoted from a crazed passage that was making the rounds on right-wing websites: “Biden crime family & ballot fraud co-conspirators (elected officials, bureaucrats, social media censorship mongers, fake stream media reporters, etc) are being arrested & detained for ballot fraud right now & over coming days, & will be living in barges off GITMO to face military tribunals for sedition.”
What about after the January 6 Capitol attack, before which she attended and helped subsidize the “Stop the Steal” rally? “We are living through what feels like the end of America,” she texted Meadows on January 10. “Most of us are disgusted with the VP and are in listening mode to see where to fight with our teams…Amazing times. The end of Liberty.”
Whew. Time to take a breath. Surely, she was not the only one caught up in this mad talk. Exhibit A: All the “patriots” chanting for the execution of Mike Pence and participating in the physical assaults on over 140 law enforcement officials.
But I share Thomas’ texts here because she’s married to a Supreme Court Justice. And that Justice is the only one on the Court (8-1) who voted in January against allowing the National Archives to release documents from the Trump White House to the House Select Committee.
As Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine noted in a tweet on Friday:
“Justice Thomas was the sole member of the Supreme Court who would have allowed records from Trump, Meadows, et al to be withheld from House Jan 6 Committee. He did not explain his reasoning. We need answers.”
California Rep. Ted Lieu proffered a more pointed response:
“Ginni Thomas can do whatever crazy things she wants. But Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas cannot rule on a case that would disclose the crazy things Ginni Thomas was doing. That was a clear conflict of interest. Justice Thomas once again dishonors the Supreme Court.”
Remember also that the day after the election, Trump said he intended to contest the results in the Supreme Court. “This is a major fraud on our nation,” he lied. “We want the law to be used in a proper manner. So we’ll be going to the US Supreme Court.”
Was Ginni Thomas conspiring with her husband to assist the coup attempt? She has claimed that they don’t discuss their work with each other. Of course she said that—but what’s the truth? The House Select Committee should bring her in for questioning.
Even without that knowledge, the conflict of interest is visible for all to see. Chief Justice John Roberts has a clear ethics problem on his Court if Justice Thomas refuses to recuse himself from cases involving January 6 and Donald Trump.
To no one’s surprise, Mitch McConnell offered his enthusiastic, unadulterated support for Clarence Thomas on Friday: “Justice Thomas is a great American and an outstanding Justice. I have total confidence in his brilliance and impartiality in every aspect of the work of the Court.”
Yet the voices of protest are loud and clear among the Democrats. "Justice Thomas' conduct on the Supreme Court looks increasingly corrupt," Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden said. “Justice Thomas participated in cases related to Donald Trump's efforts to rig and then overturn the 2020 election, while his wife was pushing to do the same.”
Interestingly, last year in July, Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy and Georgia Rep. Hank Johnson introduced the Supreme Court Ethics Act to create a code of ethical conduct for Supreme Court justices. Co-sponsored by 15 other Senate Democrats, the legislation was a response to the growing politicization of the Court and the need to rebuild trust in its independence. At that time, Murphy said, “If we care about good governance, we should also care about holding our Supreme Court justices to a code of conduct that bolsters the neutrality and transparency of our courts.”
Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut’s senior senator and one of the co-sponsors of the act, underscored the need for the ethics code. “The far right’s politicization of the Court has eroded this sacred public trust,” he stated last year. “No Justice, any more than a federal judge, should advance a partisan cause or sit on a case involving a personal friend or interest.”
In the wake of the text message release, Sen. Blumenthal reiterated the code’s need, adding, "No question that recusal by Justice Thomas is absolutely essential going forward in any case involving the January 6 committee’s investigation and the 2024 presidential election if Trump runs again.”
Pretty obvious stuff, honestly, although the broad silence among Republicans is deafening. But it doesn’t take much imagination to assume that Ginni and Clarence Thomas shared the desire for Donald J. Trump to hold onto the presidency, even if it meant trashing the once sacred tradition of the peaceful transfer of power.
And really, while we have yet to hear a word from Justice Thomas (hospitalized last week for a mysterious infection), if your wife were aggressively trying to overthrow the government while you’re serving on the Supreme Court, wouldn’t you tell her to cut it out…unless you support that effort?
Totally agree. Why is it that there are no rules for Clarence Thomas to recuse himself from any one all of these cases that come to the Supreme Court? Why does the Supreme Court leave such decisions solely up to each Justice, keeping in mind that these 9 Justices are appointed for life. Do we need to rethink "for life"? Do we need to rethink giving these 9 Justices so much power and so much discretion. Ethics considerations are in place in other branches in government. Why's ethics not a factor on the Supreme Court. Maybe this court is too Supreme.
There's zero chance if we were to design a Supreme Court from the ground up we would omit ethical curbs or term limits. No one would think this would be a good idea. Doing so would be naive, reckless, and anyone arguing for it would be laughed out of the office.
I believe we can all agree.
So, why do we insist these matters can't be changed?
This is stuff of third-world kangaroo courts. And, the USA.