Lane: Okay, That’s It. Enough is Enough.

Justice Thomas’ time on the bench is up.

by Thomas Lane | 4/7/22 4:00am

Justice Clarence Thomas has always been a contentious member of the Supreme Court. Completely ignoring the debates over his judicial philosophy and opinions, he donned the robe after a narrow confirmation beset by accusations of sexual harassment in 1991. In 2016, he was accused of yet another instance of sexual harassment at a dinner party in 1999. What is stirring the pot today, however, is his wife — Ginni Thomas — and her partisan political activities. The Washington Post and CBS News have recently obtained copies of text messages between her and former president Donald Trump’s top aide, Mark Meadows, in which she urges him on multiple occasions to find a way to overturn the 2020 election and sends him links to QAnon-associated conspiracy theories about ballot fraud. Enough is enough. Members of the Supreme Court are duty-bound to keep the political sphere at a significant distance, and it’s now beyond apparent that Justice Thomas can’t do that.

Ginni and Clarence Thomas have had plenty of run-ins with controversy already. In 2011, Justice Thomas faced heavy heat for failing to report his wife’s earnings of almost $700,000 at the arch-conservative Heritage Foundation think tank on several years of his financial disclosure forms. She is a frequent participant in conservative activism and lobbying circles, ranging from anti-abortion groups to organizations seeking to take rights away from LGBTQ individuals. That alone is a big red flag for a Supreme Court justice — these are all issues pending before the court right now.

How possible is it to keep the work of a married couple separate from one another? Ginni has claimed before that she and her husband don’t discuss their work with one another, but does it not seem preposterous for a couple to keep what is arguably the most prominent part of their lives essentially secret? It’s not like they live in separate hermetically sealed glass orbs. They’re human, and both hold very staunch opinions. The idea that they never talk about politics together seems ludicrous. At the very least, Justice Thomas is getting Ginni’s charged emails —  Ginni has previously been rebuked for sending tirades about former president Trump’s 2020 loss to Justice Thomas’ listserv, which includes him and his current and former law clerks. With these new revelations of Ginni’s activities, the final bridge has been crossed.

I’m no believer in the fairy tale we all get told in middle school civics class that the Supreme Court is this mystical and apolitical arbiter of our nation’s most pressing issues — its nine members are just as human, biased, and imperfect as you and I — but for the sake of the Court’s basic integrity, it's time for Justice Thomas to resign. If he won’t do that, which, let’s face it, is almost certain, Congress should put impeachment on the table.

Why exactly should Justice Thomas hand in his robe? Obviously, likely no one besides Ginni and Clarence Thomas themselves know what they talk about together. No one can directly prove that Justice Thomas is under the political influence of his wife and her troubling and antidemocratic behavior.  He sure is acting like he is though. When one of Trump’s lawsuits seeking to prevent Congress from accessing his records regarding the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection was appealed all the way up to the Supreme Court, Justice Thomas was the lone dissenter. All eight of his colleagues — including three appointed by Trump himself — voted that the appeals court decision directing the records be handed over to Congress wasn’t worthy of review.

This is worryingly in line with Ginni’s behavior. She attended the “Stop the Steal” rally that preceded the insurrection itself, and in her recently released texts, she urges Meadows to “Release the Kraken” — a euphemism popular at the time among far-right circles for drumming up allegations of election fraud — and repeatedly asks he ensure Trump remain in office. Interestingly, Meadows himself filed an amicus brief supporting Trump’s side in the above case Justice Thomas said he would have heard. At this point, the list of red flags is a mile long!

When it comes to our judicial system, we must not only ensure that justice is served, but also that there is an appearance that justice is served. Even if we assume Justice Thomas is doing a perfect job keeping his work separate from his wife’s, it sure doesn’t look like it. This appearance of impropriety threatens the Supreme Court’s integrity, and such a threat should be enough to warrant significant disciplinary action.

Why should such behavior be enough to justify drastic action? Shouldn’t the standard be higher? After all, we are talking about taking a Supreme Court justice’s seat away here. The answer is a resounding no. Justice Thomas isn’t being accused of a crime. He’s not a defendant in court being judged by a jury if he’s guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. What is in question is if he should continue to occupy one of the highest offices of our country, which is both a privilege and an honor. No one should get to have or keep that position if they can’t fulfill the ethics side of the bargain.

We cannot have Supreme Court justices whose judgment appears to have been put in peril. After all, one of the primary roles of a justice is to make solid assessments of the facts and the law. His now severely compromised situation warrants his replacement. The Supreme Court offers a very generous retirement pension, so it’s not like he’ll be suffering if he calls it quits. It’s time for Justice Thomas to go.

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