CNN: What to know about the Justice Clarence Thomas recusal debate around his wife’s texts


Criticism of Justice Clarence Thomas’ refusal to recuse himself from a case involving White House January 6 records the Supreme Court considered this year has increased in the wake of recently revealed texts Thomas’ wife had sent about the bid to overturn the 2020 election.

Democrats are calling for ethics legislation that would apply to Supreme Court justices, who currently determine for themselves when disqualification from cases is required. The court has been mum on the controversy, which erupted after last week’s disclosure that Virginia “Ginni” Thomas had texted with then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows about the efforts to reverse former President Donald Trump’s electoral loss.

The Supreme Court has already weighed in once on the House’s investigation into the insurrection, in a case where Thomas was the lone public dissenter from the court’s decision to greenlight the release of several Trump White House documents to House investigators. (The newly public Ginni Thomas texts were not obtained from that batch, but rather from the trove handed over to investigators voluntarily by Meadows. And there is no evidence that Clarence Thomas was aware of the text messages).

Other cases involving the insurrection could eventually land before the high court, but Thomas has given no indication that he’d step away from them, refusing to comment to CNN last week. Right now, it is up to the justices to decide individually whether a case poses a potential conflict that, under the law, requires their recusal.

Whether Thomas already violated ethics norms by participating in case concerning January 6 is a subject of current debate. Among his defenders is Michael Davis, the president of the conservative Article III project and a former chief counsel for nominations at the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“It’s entirely unclear what the ethical charge even is,” Davis told CNN, while calling the demands that Thomas recuse from January 6-adjacent cases “frivolous and laughable.”

“Ginni Thomas wasn’t running for president or vice president and she wasn’t employed by the Trump administration,” Davis said. “There was no personal interest for either Justice Thomas or Ginni that would trigger any ethical issue.”

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