The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Democrats urge Clarence Thomas to recuse himself after wife’s texts

Republicans continue to defend the justice’s integrity

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas with his wife, Virginia Thomas, at a White House state dinner in 2019. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

Two Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Sunday called on Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to recuse himself from certain cases after his wife pressed the Trump White House in text messages to try to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

The texts by Virginia Thomas, who goes by Ginni and is a lawyer by training, first reported by The Washington Post and CBS News, revealed she had reached out to then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows multiple times in the weeks after the 2020 election pushing the baseless charge that the election had been stolen and urging Trump officials not to accept the results. At the time, President Donald Trump and his allies had vowed to take their efforts to overturn the election results to the Supreme Court.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has oversight of federal judicial and Supreme Court nominees, called the situation a “textbook case” in which Thomas should recuse himself from cases related to the 2020 election. Klobuchar suggested the integrity of the Supreme Court is on the line.

Democratic lawmakers on March 27 called for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to recuse himself from cases involving efforts to overturn the 2020 election. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post)

“The facts are clear here. This is unbelievable,” Klobuchar said on ABC News’s “This Week.” “You have the wife of a sitting Supreme Court justice advocating for an insurrection, advocating for overturning a legal election to the sitting president’s chief of staff. And she also knows this election, these cases are going to come before her husband.”

“This is a textbook case for removing him, recusing him from these decisions,” she added.

Thomas was the only justice to dissent in the Supreme Court’s decision in January to reject Trump’s request to block documents from being released to the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.

Judges who serve on other federal courts are required by ethics rules to recuse themselves in cases that would give the appearance of partiality, but Supreme Court justices are not subject to an ethical code — a double standard that Klobuchar said Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. needed to change.

“All I hear is silence from the Supreme Court right now, and that better change in the coming week,” Klobuchar said. “So not only should he recuse himself, but this Supreme Court badly needs ethics rules.”

Klobuchar noted that Thomas had recused himself in another case involving a family member and potential conflicts: a 1995 case involving the Virginia Military Institute, which his son was attending at the time. She noted that Justice Stephen G. Breyer recused himself when his wife was on the board of an entity whose case came before the Supreme Court.

On NBC News’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), another Senate Judiciary Committee member, pointed out that Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan has recused herself from numerous cases “not necessarily because she was conflicted, but because she understood that even the appearance of impropriety would delegitimize the court.”

The Supreme Court “needs that legitimacy in this nation,” Booker said. “So clearly, Justice Thomas should have recused himself. That’s not even at question here.”

Republican lawmakers, however, have largely remained silent about what Thomas should do in future cases involving Jan. 6 or the 2020 election. A few have insisted that the Supreme Court justice could still hear such cases.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) last week both defended Thomas’s ability to remain impartial.

When asked about the news on “Fox News Sunday,” Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said he didn’t question the justice’s objectivity. "Clarence Thomas, in my opinion, will always do the right thing.”

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) demurred when asked about the issue on NBC News’s “Meet the Press," calling Clarence Thomas "a jurist who has a lot of integrity.”

Portman added that he doesn’t think the opinions expressed by a spouse should automatically require recusals by officials serving in the legislative or judicial branch.

But he also qualified his comments, saying that if a case related to the precise topics of Ginni Thomas’s advocacy came before the court, “that might be an issue where he would think about it.”

Ginni Thomas’s text messages were among thousands of documents related to the Jan. 6 insurrection, including other text messages and emails, that Meadows turned over to the House select committee investigating the attack before he abruptly stopped fully cooperating with the panel in December.

In some comments, Ginni Thomas was zealous in appealing to Meadows to help overturn the 2020 election results. “Help This Great President stand firm, Mark," she wrote on Nov. 10, 2020. “The majority knows Biden and the Left is attempting the greatest Heist of our History."

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), one of two Republicans on the Jan. 6 committee and who typically has been one of the few GOP lawmakers to criticize Trump and his fellow Republicans for avoiding accountability, sidestepped questions on Sunday about the issue.

Kinzinger also would not confirm or deny the existence of the text messages between Ginni Thomas and Meadows.

“I’ll tell you that we have thousands of text messages from lots of people,” Kinzinger said on CBS News’s “Face the Nation.” “We have a lot of documents. And we are going to, in a methodical, fact-driven way, get to the answers.”

As the committee continues to investigate whether there was a concerted effort to overturn a legitimate election, Kinzinger said lawmakers would seek testimony from anyone who might help answer such questions. He suggested the committee had not decided yet whether to call Ginni Thomas in to testify.

“What I don’t want to do is get into speculating too much, because I think it is important that we have answers for the American people in a factual way,” he said.

Kinzinger said the committee is not interested in prying into private conversations, but rather is trying to answer key questions about how and why the Jan. 6 attack unfolded.

“If a private citizen has a conversation, of course, we have a freedom of speech in this country,” he told CBS News. “The question for the committee is — [in] this or any exchange — was there a conspiracy or an attempt to come up with a reason, or how close did we get to overturn[ing] an election?”

Bob Woodward and Robert Costa contributed to this report.