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Opinion Here’s a test to see whether Supreme Court justices are above the law

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas with his wife, Ginni Thomas, in Washington in 2021. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The 65 Project, a bipartisan group dedicated to disbarring lawyers who filed frivolous cases related to the 2020 election, or who otherwise participated in the coup attempt, has been very busy in recent months. It filed a series of complaints against advisers of defeated former president Donald Trump, including Jenna Ellis, Boris Epshteyn, Cleta Mitchell, John Eastman and Joseph diGenova, as well as two lawyers who signed on to be fake electors and two lawyers who participated in the events of Jan. 6, 2o21.

Now, the group is making its most ambitious move yet: It is filing a specific demand with the Supreme Court to kick Eastman, the chief architect of the coup plot, out of the elite Supreme Court Bar (lawyers eligible to argue in the highest court). And it has requested that Justice Clarence Thomas recuse himself from the disciplinary proceeding because of the role that Thomas’s wife, Ginni Thomas, played in the 2020 scheme.

The complaint, made available to me before it was filed, states that Eastman “bolstered and amplified” claims not backed by evidence or the law. It also alleges that Eastman “actively participated in an effort to undermine our elections – a scheme that led to the gravest attack on American democracy since the Civil War.”

The complaint describes five “spokes” in the coup plot, all of which included Eastman. They include litigating the 65 bogus lawsuits; arranging slates of phony electors in seven states; pressuring Vice President Mike Pence to reject electoral votes; pressuring state lawmakers to overturn votes or rescind electors; and summoning “Trump’s supporters to Washington, D.C. and, having spent months lying to them about fraud and a stolen election, sending them to the Capitol, agitated and armed, to stop the electoral vote count.”

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After a detailed review of facts revealed in the Jan. 6 hearings and in reporting, the group argues that Eastman’s conduct warrants expulsion from the Supreme Court Bar as well as the loss of his California legal license. The complaint amounts to a handy guide not only to Eastman’s professional violations, but also to facts that might be the basis for criminal charges in state and federal court.

Michael Teter, the 65 Project’s managing director, tells me, “If Mr. Eastman is allowed to continue to remain a member of the highest court in the United States despite the undisputed facts regarding his actions, the American public’s quickly eroding confidence in the Supreme Court will deteriorate even faster.”

But that’s not even the most intriguing part. Citing the obligation for federal judges to recuse themselves from proceedings in which their impartiality “might reasonably be questioned” or in which the judge has personal bias or knowledge of the facts (including spouses with an interest), the complaint asks the Supreme Court — specifically Justice Thomas — to adhere to the rules (which is not mandatory for justices to follow), since the disciplinary matter concerns “public confidence in the judicial system’s integrity.”

The complaint argues that Ginni Thomas “played a significant role in pursuing many of the same post-election strategies as Mr. Eastman.” It recites her text exchanges with then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and her effort to pressure Arizona lawmakers, including a former Thomas clerk, to overturn the presidential vote. The complaint also notes that Ginni Thomas attended the “Stop the Steal” rally in D.C. on Jan. 6 and later wrote to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) denigrating the House select committee’s investigation of the attack on the Capitol. (Thomas previously stated she only briefly attended the rally.)

The recusal request concludes:

In short, Ms. Thomas participated in the concerted effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election. She supported Mr. Eastman’s efforts and conferred with him as Mr. Eastman engaged in scheme described by a federal court as a likely criminal conspiracy. She used her relationships with several other of Justice Thomas’s former clerks to further push the effort to subvert American democracy.

At a moment when the Jan. 6 committee is considering issuing a subpoena for Ginni Thomas based on exactly the same set of facts, the complaint raises questions as to why she has not cooperated and why her husband did not recuse himself from Jan. 6-related cases. (Justice Thomas has been roundly criticized for failing to do so when the court ordered the National Archives produce documents to the committee. He was the lone dissenter.)

Teter argues his complaint is an opportunity for the court to improve its image. A decision by Justice Thomas to recuse himself from the matter, he says, would be “an important first step toward the Court’s regaining some of its legitimacy.”

The court might not entertain the complaint or the recusal request. But if it chooses to ignore them, new questions about its integrity inevitably will arise. As for Ginni Thomas, both the Justice Department and Jan. 6 select committee should hear from her. Her refusal to talk to the committee is as egregious as her husband’s failure to recuse himself. It’s time to test whether a Supreme Court justice and his wife are above the law.

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