Congressional Democrats are united in their fury that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas ruled on cases involving the effort to annul the 2020 election, even though his wife, Ginni, was an enthusiastic player in that effort. .
But Democrats can’t agree on what, if anything, they can really do about it.
That’s not to say different lawmakers haven’t crafted a wide range of ideas since the bombshell that Ginni Thomas texted President Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows dozens of times after the election of 2020, urging him to keep Trump in power. In January, Thomas was the lone dissenter in a ruling requiring the release of White House filings as part of the Jan. 6 congressional inquiry.
Over the past week, many Democrats in the House and Senate have used their bullying pulpits to ask Thomas to recuse himself from matters related to the 2020 election or the Jan. 6 insurgency. They also appealed to Chief Justice John Roberts to preserve the integrity of the court by instituting clearer ethical guidelines, which the Supreme Court currently does not have.
Other Democrats went even further and called on Thomas to step down, arguing that his involvement in cases potentially involving the disclosure of his wife’s sensitive personal communications is ethically disqualifying for the whole job.
Some have proposed mounting an investigation in the House Judiciary Committee to dig deeper — or even drafting articles of impeachment in the House, which would require a simple majority to pass.
And almost every Democrat has embraced the idea of passing ethics reform for the Supreme Court in hopes of giving judges some basic ethical rules to follow, because it remains the only court in the land not to to have some.
Going forward with any of these tactics, especially legislative tactics, would require a lot of unison among the membership to be successful. But as with much of their politics over the past year, the Democrats just aren’t on the same page and don’t seem ready to make it happen.
Given these divisions, the likely outcome is a lot of bluster and very little action.
That outcome would sit well with virtually no member of a Democratic party base who cares ever more deeply about the failing institutions of American democracy and is, generally, disappointed with the pace of accountability so far in Democratic-controlled Washington. for Trump and his allies on their role in spreading election lies and fomenting Jan. 6.
When news of the Ginni Thomas texts broke, progressive groups quickly mobilized to pressure lawmakers to call for Justice Thomas’s resignation or removal. It had an impact: several said they received calls from their constituents asking what they were planning to do about Thomas.
But so far, only a handful of Democrats have embraced impeachment, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who said the step should be taken if Thomas doesn’t step down. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), another member who has raised the possibility of an impeachment, told The Daily Beast she had heard some of her colleagues were already drafting the documents.
Others, like Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-NY) think “everything should be on the table.”
“It’s the prerogative of Congress to control the federal justice system,” Jones said.
This level of punishment is still the minority opinion. Even the most critical of Trump and the right wing of the GOP were not ready to call for impeachment justice at this point.
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), who was one of the impeachment officials in Trump’s second trial, warned Democrats “not to water down the meaning of what impeachment is.”
“Let’s save it for extreme episodes of union crimes, the kind that Donald Trump is accused of,” Raskin told The Daily Beast.
Judiciary Committee member Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) has previously stated his support for impeachment proceedings against Thomas, but has quieted down in recent days out of respect for his colleagues on the 6 January.
“The January 6 Committee has a lot of irons in the fire, including Ginni Thomas,” Johnson told The Daily Beast, “and I think anything that interferes with their work is not something I support.”
This preference to defer to the January 6 committee is shared by other Democrats, including President Joe Biden.
Although Biden campaigned for the White House on the idea that the future of democracy itself was on the ballot, he did not weigh in on the Thomases’ apparent strife, often failing in his position. used to leave the legal issues to the Department of Justice to resolve.
“I would leave that to two entities,” Biden said Monday, in response to a reporter’s question about whether Judge Thomas should recuse himself from cases involving former President Trump’s attempted insurrection. “One, the January 6 committee and, two, the Department of Justice. It’s their judgment, not mine.
The White House is apparently so disengaged from Ginni Thomas’ speech that officials were unaware that this patently insane text message, first revealed by The Washington Post last week – even existed. Asked about a response to the allegation that the president’s family was secretly arrested for sedition, a White House spokesperson replied: “Wait, when did she say that?”
Asked about Thomas, the vast majority of Democrats seem resigned that Thomas won’t step down – and just hope the pressure might build for him to recuse himself from cases where he has a clear conflict of interest due to his actions. of the woman.
This would be consistent with standard precedent for Supreme Court justices who have historically stepped down from cases due to work history or family ties.
“There’s no question he has to recuse himself… Sounds like an open matter to me,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) told The Daily Beast.
Jones, for his part, said he intends to pursue the provision of federal law that requires judges to recuse themselves from “any proceeding in which their impartiality might reasonably be questioned.”
“It got lost in the noise,” said Jones, who called for Judiciary Committee hearings into Thomas’ conflict of interest. “There is not enough education about it. It’s actually not a gray area.
Some Democrats are hoping that even if they can’t hold Thomas accountable, the episode could breathe some life into the drive to create basic ethical standards in the High Court.
On Monday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) led a letter with 20 other Democrats to Roberts, asking him to create a binding “code of conduct” for the Supreme Court.
“We need to put regulations in place,” Warren said. “We had to do it long before this scandal happened…but this scandal may be the impetus to do it.”
Regardless of what Democrats decide to do, the Jan. 6 committee should at least further investigate Ginni Thomas’ role in the Capitol Riot. They intend to ask him to voluntarily sit down for an interview, although some panel members would like to go ahead and subpoena him, according to ABC News, in order to move the process along.
Depending on what they find, Justice Thomas’s decision to rule on the 2020 election and January 6 cases at the High Court might seem even more questionable.
In January, the court rejected an urgent appeal by Trump to block the release of his White House records that the Jan. 6 committee had requested. The only dissenter was Thomas, and he gave no explanation for it.
But the Ginni Thomas texts were included in a batch of 9,000 documents that Meadows gave to the committee. According to New York TimesThomas then participated in the court’s review of a separate case in which Meadows had filed a “friend of the court” brief, appealing to the judges that their decision would affect his ability not to disclose his records to investigators.
Many Democrats spoke as if this was not the end of the Thomas saga. This means they will likely continue to wrestle with the dilemma that dogged them during the Trump era – finding answers to norm-breaking behavior from elements of the executive or judiciary when there is no there really aren’t any good answers.
Asked about Thomas, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) recalled that many lawmakers called on Trump to resign after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot he instigated, which of course he had no intention of. to do.
“Politicians tend to ask for resignations,” Schatz said. “There was a time when everyone was calling on Trump to step down, and I feel like that’s a little flippant.”