Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a withering condemnation of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas on Thursday as it becomes clear that the highest court’s ethical standards and practices are facing historic scrutiny.
At her weekly press briefing, the House Democratic leader told reporters that she never believed that Mr Thomas should have joined the Court in the first place, and added that his wife had been revealed as an “admitted and proud contributor to a coup of our country ”.
The remarks were some of the sharpest criticism issued so far by a high ranking Democratic leader as the fallout over text messages Ginni Thomas sent to then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows both prior to and following the January 6 attack continues.
“Do you agree with members of your caucus that Clarence Thomas should resign?” a reporter asked Ms. Pelosi.
“I don’t think he ever should have been appointed in the first place,” she said, rolling her eyes slightly. Democrats opposed Mr Thomas’s confirmation after testimony from Anita Hill, a professor of law at Brandeis University, who accused Mr Thomas of sexual harassment.
“I’m not going to go to that,” Ms Pelosi continued, referring to the question of whether Mr Thomas should resign.
Later, she remarked about his considerations surrounding recusal on cases related to the January 6 attack on Congress. Mr Thomas previously has shown no indication that he will do so, and was the sole justice to rule in favor of shielding the White House’s communications — which may have included conversations between his wife and Donald Trump’s closest advisers — with the House select committee investigating the attack.
“Well, if your wife is an admitted and proud contributor to a coup of our country, maybe you should weigh that in your ethical standards,” she quipped derisively.
“We have a call for the Supreme Court to have a code of ethics. They don’t have a code of ethics…we don’t know what their ethical standard is,” Ms Pelosi added, referring to a Democrat-led effort to pass legislation establishing such a code of ethics enforced by federal law for the Supreme Court.
The Court’s oldest justice after retiring Justice Stephen Breyer, Mr Thomas was recently released from the hospital after a week of care for an unspecified infection and spent several days recovering from home, participating in Court proceedings remotely. The 73-year-old’s condition was the center of much speculation on social media, but little information has been released about his illness other than a statement from the Court confirming that he did not have Covid-19.
His wife’s texts to Mark Meadows, the final White House chief of staff under Donald Trump, recently were made public as the January 6 committee’s efforts to obtain more of Mr Meadows text messages and other communications from White House aides from the hours and days surrounding the attack. They illuminated Ms Thomas’s role as a cheerleader and organizer of grassroots support for Mr Trump’s false claims about election fraud and his 2020 defeat to Mr Biden, and portrayed the wife of a sitting justice on the nation’s highest Court as a conspiracy-embracing political operative who was directly egging on an effort to overturn a fair choice.
The image of Ms Thomas coupled with her husband’s refusal to recuse himself on a case that is widely being condemned as a clear conflict of interest is dealing body blows to the public perception of the Court as an impartial, nonpolitical body and the ability of justices to police their own ethical procedures.
A number of Democrats have written to Mr Thomas and the Court’s chief justice, John Roberts, demanding Mr Thomas’s recusal on January 6-related cases going forward while others like progressive Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have gone further and stated that Mr Thomas should leave the Court willingly or not.