What’s Happening to the Supreme Court?

Over a year later, the ripples of the events of Jan. 6 at the Capitol continue to affect almost every aspect of political life in America. Separate lawsuits have charged extremist groups, including The Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, with federal charges, according to Rolling Stone. Additionally, 31 individuals have been criminally charged and sentenced to various periods of prison time, according to Time. The House of Representatives has also created a special committee to investigate the Jan. 6 attack, made up of seven Democrats and Republican Representative Liz Cheney. 

Various names on the scale of predictability have shown up in the committee’s investigation, from Ivanka Trump to Michael Flynn. Still, as of this week, the most high-profile person to be connected to the committee’s effort is Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife, Ginni Thomas. 

After Justice Thomas was released from the hospital on Friday, March 25, news surfaced that Ginni Thomas sent over two dozen messages to Donald Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, about overthrowing the election results that put President Joe Biden into office, according to The Washington Post. Meadows appeared in front of the special committee and provided these and over 2,000 other text messages. Twenty-nine messages between Meadows and Ginni Thomas were submitted to the committee before Meadows stopped cooperating, citing former President Trump’s executive privilege, according to the same article.

Needless to say, this is an unprecedented problem facing Justice Thomas, Congress and the White House. Supreme Court justices are meant to be impartial to political leanings and opinions, though this has become increasingly less true in recent times. The appointment of Justice Thomas itself was loaded with political controversy due to the sexual assault accusations against him made by Anita Hill. In 1991, after the retirement of Thurgood Marshall, a civil rights icon, George Bush nominated Justice Thomas in an apparent effort to appease both his conservative base and the African American community. Justice Thomas calls himself an “originalist,” meaning he reads the Constitution as it was intended to be read at the time of its construction. This makes him the most conservative judge on the court, outpacing even the newer Trump additions, according to Axios. His rulings on abortion cases, as well as his confusing and hypocritical views on Jim Crow laws and the history of racism in the U.S., alienated him from a large section of those who admired and revered Marshall, according to The Atlantic.

Justice Thomas has ruled in multiple cases involving Trump and the 2020 election, often writing the dissenting opinion after the court ruled against Trump, according to The New York Times. Returning to the matter at hand, the same New York Times article explains that his wife, Ginni Thomas, has a history of conservative activism that she claims has never influenced his beliefs or rulings. But, with there being a significant possibility that matters related to the events of Jan. 6 could move their way up to the Supreme Court, all eyes are on Justice Thomas. Should he recuse himself from any case involving the election? Or even further, any case involving the former president at all? Some even believe he should leave the bench or be forced out, though the only previous time a Supreme Court justice has been impeached was in 1804.

Legal experts cite two different federal laws that would call upon Justice Thomas to recuse himself. One calls upon a judge to recuse themselves when they have a conflict of interest, while another mentions a spouse or family member’s conflict of interest, according to The New York Times. 

The news about Ginni Thomas’ messages to Meadows comes as the Senate is questioning Supreme Court Nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson. Her pledge to recuse herself from any case involving her alma mater, Harvard University, now stands starkly against Justice Thomas’ attitude about cases involving Trump and the election. 

Tensions around the Supreme Court have been brewing for decades, and recent issues surrounding Merrick Garland’s lack of confirmation and controversial Trump appointees have only accelerated the problem. Currently, it is hard not to compare the treatment of Justice Thomas by Senate Republicans to their treatment of Jackson. They refuse to call on Justice Thomas to recuse himself. Yet, they have no problem badgering Jackson and withholding their confirmation votes for political reasons. With issues of corruption coming to light just as the first Black woman nominated for a seat is facing a barrage of rude and politically motivated questions, the court’s future and reputation are in jeopardy.