Washington, D.C. March 29, 2022 – United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) led 22 colleagues in a bicameral letter to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and Chief Justice John Roberts demanding answers regarding Justice Thomas’s potential violation of federal ethics law, after last week’s explosive reporting on the efforts of his wife, Ms. Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Justice Thomas was the lone dissenting vote in a Supreme Court case requiring that Trump White House records be turned over to the January 6th House Select Committee earlier this year.
21 of the signers of the letter are members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, including Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Chair of the House Judiciary Committee; Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), Chair of the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet; and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Federal Courts, Oversight, Agency Action, and Federal Rights. The letter was also signed by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.); Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.); Ron Wyden (D-Ore.); Cory Booker (D-N.J.); Alex Padilla (D-Calif.); Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii); Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.); and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.); and Representatives Cori Bush (D-Mo.); Karen Bass (D-Calif.); David Cicilline (D-R.I.); Steven Cohen (D-Tenn.); Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.); Veronica Escobar (D-Texas); Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas); Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.); Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas); Ted Lieu (D-Calif.); and Deborah Ross (D-N.C.).
The lawmakers demanded a written explanation from Justice Thomas about his failure to recuse himself given these potential conflicts of interest, sought Justice Thomas’s recusal from future cases involving efforts to overturn the 2020 election or the January 6th attack on the Capitol, and called on Chief Justice Roberts to create binding, enforceable ethics rules for the Supreme Court.
“Justice Thomas’s participation in cases involving the 2020 election and the January 6th attack is exceedingly difficult to reconcile with federal ethics requirements… Justice Thomas has neither disclosed the extent of his knowledge about Ms. Thomas’s activities nor recused himself from multiple Court cases involving the 2020 election and the attempted insurrection that followed. In fact, Justice Thomas was the sole dissenting Justice who would have blocked the January 6th Committee’s access to presidential records involving the Trump Administration’s efforts to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power — records that could very well contain communications between Ms. Thomas and top White House officials given what we now know,” wrote the lawmakers.
Last week, the Washington Post and CBS News detailed Ms. Thomas’s efforts to persuade then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Between Election Day 2020 and the days following the January 6th attack on the Capitol, Ms. Thomas and Meadows exchanged 29 text messages, in which Ms. Thomas spread false theories about the election, urged Meadows to overturn the election results, and called for specific actions from the White House to help overturn the election. These revelations follow prior reporting about Ms. Thomas’s efforts to nullify the results of the 2020 election, including serving as one of the nine board members of a group that helped lead the “Stop the Steal” movement and calling for the punishment of House Republicans who participated in the U.S. House Select Committee investigating the January 6th attack.
In addition to raising concerns about whether Justice Thomas may have violated federal ethics law, the lawmakers noted the Supreme Court’s pattern of major ethics failures. Between 2003 and 2007, Justice Thomas failed to disclose $686,589 in his wife’s income from her work at the Heritage Foundation in violation of the Ethics in Government Act. Multiple Justices have failed to recuse themselves from cases before the Court while owning individual stocks in the parties, and Justices regularly accept lavish trips, donations to causes they support, and expensive memberships, in stark contrast to the gifts allowed under ethics restrictions imposed on other branches of government.
Given the serious potential conflicts of interest presented by Ms. Thomas’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election and Justice Thomas’s failure to recuse himself from these cases, the lawmakers called on Justice Thomas to immediately issue a written explanation for his failure to recuse himself and asked that he recuse himself from any future Supreme Court cases concerning the 2020 election and the January 6th attack on the Capitol. To fix the long pattern of ethics breaches at the Supreme Court, the lawmakers called on Chief Justice Roberts to commit to creating a binding Code of Conduct for the Court that includes enforceable provisions and a requirement that all Justices issue written recusal decisions. The lawmakers asked that Justice Roberts respond and make this commitment by April 28, 2022.
Senator Warren is a national leader in the fight against corruption and for ethics in government. She has introduced the Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act, comprehensive legislation to overhaul ethics at the Supreme Court and across the entire federal government which includes measures that would improve judicial integrity and defend access to justice for all Americans. Among its provisions, it would:
- Impose a binding Code of Conduct on the Supreme Court, the only court in the country not currently subject to a judicial code of ethics.
- Enhance disclosure requirements by mandating the online publication of all judicial financial disclosure reports within 90 days of their filing.
- Strengthen rules prohibiting judges from accepting gifts in connection with private seminars.
- Require Supreme Court Justices to provide written explanations for their recusal decisions—and the Judicial Conference to publish their recommendations on the subject—whenever a litigant requests recusal.