With so much wild and crazy news inundating us each day, it can be easy to quickly move from one shocking and outrageous story on to the next. But in the case of Ginni Thomas — from her multiple texts to Mark Meadows and others in pursuit of overturning the 2020 presidential election to her alleged support and help in the planning of the Jan. 6 riot, and now the revelation of her numerous visits to the Trump Oval Office to give him hiring and firing advice — we should never move on.
The unavoidable reality is that Ginni Thomas is married to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and has been for 35 years. After the extent of her actions and affiliations recently came to light, many have called for her husband to step down from the bench. That’s unlikely to happen, for reasons I discuss below. But at the very least his ability to preside as a judge should be limited when his wife’s behavior presents a possible conflict of interest.
Both Ginni and Clarence have often trumpeted the closeness of their relationship. In a recent New Yorker piece, Jane Mayer quotes a friend of the Thomases who told The Washington Post: “The couple was so bonded that ‘the one person he [Clarence] really listens to is Virginia,” whom he has also referred to as his “best friend.”
I’m not one to indict couples, married or otherwise, on the depth and breadth of what they share with each other (after all, the success of some relationships may be predicated on what secrets are kept). But it strains credulity to the point of breaking if Justice Thomas claims that he had no idea what his “best friend” Ginni was up to when she was allegedly fomenting a violent insurrection, in attendance on Jan. 6 at the Ellipse, recommending conspiracy theorists, frequently visiting the Oval Office, and texting the then-president’s chief of staff with such gems as: “ … The majority knows Biden and the Left is attempting the greatest Heist of our History” or, “Biden crime family & ballot fraud co-conspirators … are being arrested & detained for ballot fraud right now & over coming days, & will be living in barges off GITMO [Guantanamo Bay] to face military tribunals for sedition.”
At a minimum, Justice Thomas has to be aware of the matters that Ginni Thomas’ consulting firm, Liberty Consulting, takes on, including working for conservative and right-wing groups that are anti-abortion and pro-NRA and gun rights. Those issues inevitably end up before the Supreme Court. And the idea that the two of them don’t share pillow talk or dinner conversations about those issues is an insult to Americans who simply want a fair and impartial justice presiding over cases in the highest court of the land, cases with implications for us all. Trump repeatedly made it clear that the Supreme Court was going to be the last stop of vindication on his “Crazy Train” of delusion. So, in the universe of secrets, Justice Thomas’ role in deciding Trump’s fate was the worst-kept.
Conservative commentators suggest that calls for the recusal, or even the removal, of Justice Thomas from the bench are unfair as spouses should be able to express opinions on issues without fear of being accused of unduly influencing their judge-spouses. But Justice Thomas’ own actions belie that complaint: Recall he was the only justice to note his dissent in the opinion that denied Trump’s ability to block the release of his White House records to the Jan. 6 committee — the very committee that ended up receiving Meadows’ text messages that revealed Ginni Thomas’ exceptionally active involvement and her promotion of demonstrably false theories about election-stealing and voting fraud.
The code of ethics that govern federal judges does not apply to Supreme Court justices, who also share life-time appointments. Ultimately it is up to the justice to decide whether recusal makes sense. Chief Justice John Roberts cannot force Justice Thomas to sit out on hearing cases, but 28 U.S.C. §455 states that any judge of the United States “shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” It goes further, stating disqualification shall occur where “his spouse … is known by the judge to have an interest that could be substantially affected by the outcome of the proceeding.”
Ginni Thomas’ consulting work, her vocal opinions and even more active participation in attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election, her connections to several individuals who have been subpoenaed by the Jan. 6 committee and who might also be subjects of DOJ investigations, at the least require that Justice Thomas recuse himself from any cases involving the 2020 presidential election and Jan. 6.