Ginni and Clarence Thomas ask about Supreme Court ethics

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(WASHINGTON) — Clarence Thomas, the top justice of the United States Supreme Court, long celebrated by conservatives and reviled by liberals, faces renewed scrutiny for potential conflicts of interest as he leads the majority newly empowered conservative at court and public opinion of the court plummeting to an all-time low.

Independent ethics watchdogs have raised new questions about the activism of Clarence Thomas’ wife of 34 years, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, a longtime political consultant who lobbies for some of the same conservative causes – around abortion, gun rights and religious freedom – which are before the High Court.

A New Yorker Last month’s magazine report documented a web of associations between Ginni Thomas and “conservative lobby groups that have either been involved in court cases or had members engaged in such cases”.

Thomas sits on the advisory board of a group opposing affirmative action that has filed an amicus judicial brief with the Supreme Court in cases the justices recently agreed to hear. She has also been highly critical in public of the congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, whose cases have also been taken to court.

Recently released emails obtained by the nonpartisan watchdog group American Oversight, first reported by Politico, also suggest close ties between the Thomases and Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who challenged federal COVID warrants in court. High Court. In a June 2021 post, not independently verified by ABC News, Ginni Thomas solicits the governor’s attendance at a private activist rally, noting that Clarence Thomas had been in contact with DeSantis “about various things lately.”

Neither Clarence nor Ginni Thomas responded to ABC News’ request for comment on the reports or allegations of potential conflicts.

“Ginni Thomas’ activities are unlike any other spouse in the history of the United States Supreme Court,” said Gabe Roth, executive director of Fix The Court, a nonpartisan ethics group. “She is more militant in political causes than any other spouse. She has more connections with organizations that have cases before the courts than any spouse before.

Ginni Thomas’ personal website says she has “fought for conservative principles” for more than three decades, regularly advising other activists through her private practice, Liberty Consulting, and at conservative conferences.

“America is in a fierce battle for its founding principles,” Ginni Thomas said at a meeting of the Council for National Policy, a conservative advocacy group, in 2018, according to video obtained by investigative site Documented. . “May we all have firearms and concealed carry to face what is to come.”

In a 2010 interview with ABC News’ hello americaGinni Thomas spoke about her work to oppose the Affordable Care Act.

“I think the clear objective is to stop Obama’s agenda,” she said at the time. (The ACA would later face three existential challenges in the Supreme Court. It survived each one.)

On Jan. 6, 2021, before violence erupted on Capitol Hill, Ginni Thomas — who had direct access to Trump’s White House — cheered on the president’s supporters challenging the election vote count, writing on Facebook that morning, ” GOD BLESS EVERYONE OF YOU STANDING or PRAYING.

With 733 Americans now facing federal charges for their alleged conduct later today, Ginni Thomas joined an open letter in December calling Congress’s investigation into the attack by a Democratic-led committee a “persecution Politics”.

Eight days after the letter was released, former President Donald Trump asked the Supreme Court to block the committee’s request for his records. Last month, the court refused on the objection of a single judge: Clarence Thomas.

“There were eyebrows raised when Judge Thomas was that one vote,” said Kate Shaw, ABC News Supreme Court analyst and Cardozo law professor. “But he didn’t explain himself, so we don’t really know why he wanted to take over the case.”

Experts say there are no explicit ethical guidelines governing the activities of a judge’s spouse, but there are rules about judges that avoid conflicts of interest. Federal law requires federal judges to recuse themselves from cases whenever their “impartiality could reasonably be called into question.”

Roth notes, however, that there is no independent enforcement mechanism in place; it is entirely up to individual justice.

“There’s this, you know, the court of public opinion,” he said. “But the only way to punish a Supreme Court justice is by impeachment and removal, and no judge has ever been removed and removed.”

Although there is precedent for the recusal of judges due to the involvement or association of family members in a given case, Clarence Thomas has never recused himself for his wife’s political activities.

With public approval of the Supreme Court slipping to an all-time low, scrutiny of potential financial or political conflicts of justices in cases has increased.

Ginni Thomas is not named in any way on the court docket, nor any group she is known to be a part of. Thomas’ supporters see a double standard in the scrutiny of their relationship.

“There are always attempts from the left to fabricate grounds to challenge conservative judges from cases. It seems like just another round of those attempts to me,” said Carrie Severino, former clerk to Clarence Thomas and president of the Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative legal advocacy group.

In 2011, Federal Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Reinhardt, a prominent liberal jurist, refused to recuse himself from a case involving California’s ban on same-sex marriage despite the fact that his wife was a leader of the ‘ACLU, which had filed an amicus brief challenging the ban.

Reinhardt defended his decision at the time, writing, “his views on matters of public importance are his own.”

“I think we live in a world where women are [and] should be able to be strong, be active and participate in public discourse,” Severino said. “And that shouldn’t be seen as something that necessarily reflects exactly what their husband thinks or how he’s going to behave as well.”

For the most part, spouses of judges have tended to stay away from court work.

“My wife doesn’t give me any advice on cooking, and I don’t give her any advice on the law,” Martin Ginsburg, the late husband of former Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and longtime tax lawyer, joked during a joint appearance at Wheaton. College in 1997.

But when judges take up a major affirmative action case later this year, they will consider the views of the National Association of Scholars, a conservative nonprofit that opposes the use of race in admissions. at University. Ginni Thomas sits on its advisory board.

“It’s only fitting that Justice Breyer’s wife worked at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. It’s only fitting that Jane Roberts was a legal recruiter during Chief Justice Roberts’ tenure. And that It’s also totally fine that Ginni Thomas has a political consulting firm,” Roth said. “But we need to review the people closest to the judges.”

“If you seem to be against someone or something, then you shouldn’t judge that someone or something,” he said.

ABC News has learned that Roth’s group, Fix the Court, asked the clerk of the Supreme Court to strike the National Association of Scholars’ brief from the docket because of the apparent conflict with Ginni Thomas.

The Registrar has yet to respond to this request.

A new ABC/Ipsos poll finds more Americans, 43%, think partisan political views rather than the basis of law (38%) drive judges’ decisions.

Members of Congress and outside experts say new, enforceable ethics rules for the court are needed more than ever. Even Chief Justice John Roberts acknowledged in his 2021 Year-End Report that “public trust is essential, not incidental” to the court’s function.

But Roberts opposes outside efforts to impose a new code of ethics.

“I think it might help judges regain some of the public’s lost trust and credibility just to say, look, you know, we ourselves are bound by some ethical guidelines that another body has imposed on us,” Shaw said. “So far the court as an institution has not wanted to sign this.”

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