NC Rep. Deborah Ross Among Democrats Demanding Action on Supreme Court Scandal

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife Virginia "Ginni" Thomas arrive for a State Dinner in 2019. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

By Michael McElroy

April 1, 2022

Ross, a North Carolina attorney, says it is “imperative” that the US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas avoid conflicts of interest involving the Jan. 6 insurrection. 

In the weeks after Joe Biden defeated President Trump in the 2020 elections, the wife of a sitting Supreme Court Justice accused Democrats of stealing the election, attended the Jan. 6th rally that turned into the attack on the capitol, and sent more than 20 text messages to Trump’s top aide, imploring him to do whatever he could to help overturn the election and keep Trump in power.

When the Supreme Court later voted on whether to allow the release of White House documents pertaining to the Jan. 6 attack, that sitting justice, Clarence Thomas, was the only one who voted to keep the records hidden. 

Justice Thomas and his wife Ginni Thomas, are at the center of a roiling debate over judicial ethics, conflicts of interest and how to protect the integrity of both the judiciary and the electoral process, and this week, 24 Democrats, including NC Congresswoman Deborah Ross, sent a letter seeking answers from Thomas and Chief Justice John Roberts.

The text messages, first reported and reviewed by the Washington Post and CBS news, “reveal an extraordinary pipeline,” between Ginni Thomas and Mark Meadows, the former NC Congressman and Trump’s chief of staff at the time, “during a period when Trump and his allies were vowing to go to the Supreme Court in an effort to negate the election results.” 

That, Ross said, is a problem.

“The US Supreme Court has already ruled on one thing having to do with the Jan. 6 insurrection”, she said, “before we knew how directly involved Ginni Thomas was in both the events of Jan. 6 and also the whole issue with overturning the election.”

“Now we do have that information,” she said, “and it is imperative for the integrity of the judiciary that there not even be an appearance of a conflict of interest for a sitting Supreme Court justice.”

Subhed: What Does the Letter Say? 

The letter, signed by 10 Senators and 14 Representatives, asked Justice Thomas to recuse himself from any new cases involving efforts to overturn the 2020 election or investigations into the Jan. 6 insurrection. 

It also demanded that Thomas explain in writing why he did not recuse himself from the initial Jan. 6 ruling, and called on Chief Justice Roberts to create “a binding code of conduct” for the Supreme Court that establishes clear guidelines for recusals and the means to enforce them. It asked both justices to respond by April 28.

“This is an issue of judicial ethics,” Ross said. “Given that [Ginni Thomas] was so involved,” Ross said, “it is certainly appropriate to ask Justice Thomas to recuse himself.”

Ginni Thomas and Meadows exchanged nearly 29 texts between Election Day and Jan. 10, four days after the attack on the Capitol. Thomas said Meadows had a duty to make sure Trump stayed in power.

““Help This Great President stand firm, Mark!!!,” Thomas wrote him, according to the Post. “You are the leader, with him, who is standing for America’s constitutional governance at the precipice. The majority knows Biden and the Left is attempting the greatest Heist of our History.”

Thomas also “spread false theories, commented on cable news segments and advocated with urgency and fervor that the president and his team take action to reverse the outcome of the election,” the Post reported. 

“She urged that they take a hard line with Trump staffers and congressional Republicans who had resisted arguments that the election was stolen,” the Post wrote.

“As Congress considers its response to these latest revelations,” the legislators wrote in their letter, “the Supreme Court has the responsibility and the power to act now.”

Subhed: What Next? 

The laws, however, are a bit murky on what can be done if Thomas declines to recuse himself. 

A federal law says that “Any justice, judge, or magistrate judge of the United States shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” Another clause says that a judge “shall” also recuse himself if his spouse “has a financial interest in the subject matter in controversy or in a party to the proceeding, or any other interest that could be substantially affected by the outcome of the proceeding.” 

But there is no real enforcement mechanism. Even Chief Justice Roberts can’t block Thomas from ruling in a case. 

The Supreme Court has long resisted any regulation that comes from another branch of government, Ross said, preferring instead to allow the justices to decide these matters for themselves. But, since the justices get a lifetime appointment, if there is no backstop, that creates the potential for all sorts of trouble, Ross said.

“There is no employer who can fire them or client who can fire them, or higher authority who can overrule them,” Ross said. 

“They are the higher authority.”

She added: “If there is no code, either imposed from the outside or the inside you’ve got people who have no accountability to the public. None.”

If neither Thomas or Roberts do what the letter asked, Ross said, Congress could decide to hold hearings, invite witnesses and seek experts to testify on the issue.

Still, she said, she was confident that Roberts would “take this seriously.”

“The integrity of the court is always an issue. And the Chief Justice as the head of the court and the head of the federal judicial system is tasked with making sure that the public has faith, not just in the system, but in the court of last resort and all the members of that court.”

Roberts had a difficult task, she said, “because when you get a lifetime appointment, the chief justice isn’t your boss either.”

She added: “I’m hoping that it won’t just be him. That he’ll have the support of his colleagues as well. Because that is really what makes a difference and creates the culture of the court, which then can hopefully earn the public’s trust.”


  • Michael McElroy

    Michael McElroy is Cardinal & Pine's political correspondent. He is an adjunct instructor at UNC-Chapel Hill's Hussman School of Journalism and Media, and a former editor at The New York Times.

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