By Catherine Hamilton
WASHINGTON, D.C. – A mid-week hearing here centering on requiring all U.S. Supreme Court justices to follow ethical standards was disrupted by partisan disagreements over a conservative-appointed justice, Clarence Thomas, according to Courthouse News Service.
In March, the Washington Post uncovered texts sent from Thomas’ wife, Virginia Thomas, to former White House chief of Staff Mark Meadows, attempting to persuade him to overturn the 2020 election results.
Since then, Thomas has come under scrutiny after he wrote a dissenting opinion when the Supreme Court rejected former President Donald Trump’s filed election challenges.
Thomas was also the only dissenting justice when Trump asked the Court to allow him to refuse providing White House records to the Jan. 6 investigative committee.
Multiple legal experts from both side of the political spectrum have condemned Thomas’ refusal to back away from cases surrounding the 2020 election, calling it “a prime example of why the high court needs to be held to ethical standards,” said Courthouse News Service.
Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee have called this criticism racist, according to Courthouse News Service.
“Justice Thomas knows what all of my very conservative dear Black friends know, is nobody is treated more brutally in this country than a conservative Black,” Texas Representative Louie Gohmert said.
“And it’s just like Justice Thomas said at this hearing, he was the victim of high-tech lynching, and I would submit anyone that continue that abuse is further contributing to the same high-tech lynching,” he added.
Mark Paoletta, a former general counsel at the Office of Management and Budget under Trump, testified before the House Judiciary Committee, claiming that the conservative Supreme Court justices were not undermining ethics issues, but were rather being smeared by the media and Democrats.
“The left hates Justice Thomas because he is a Black conservative who has never bowed to those who demand that he must think a certain way because of the color of his skin,” Paoletta said. “The racist attacks have repeatedly sought to portray Justice Thomas as dependent on white people.”
“This notion that Clarence Thomas is being singled out because he’s a Black conservative — whatever that means — I think it’s belied by the fact that if you look at example after example, there seem to be troubling instances where he’s making rulings in cases where his wife has a clear interest,” NY Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, who is also Black, said, refuting the claim that Democrats are singling out Thomas because of his skin color and beliefs.
“It is important to note that the crisis of ethics in our government is the result of decades of benign neglect by leaders in all three branches of government, not the misconduct of one or even a few people,” said Donald Sherman, senior vice president and chief counsel at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “Ethics is not a partisan issue.”
Executive director of Fix the Court, Gabe Roth, gave examples of ethical lapses by justices other than Thomas.
“These are just a handful of examples of Supreme Court justices flouting basic ethics rules in the handful of years in my organization fixed the court has existed. I have a dozen more in my written statements,” Roth said.
Roth added, “I’m a reasonable person and I questioned Justice Thomas’s impartiality in each of the examples I just mentioned and sadly in many more.”
“One of the more egregious examples in recent memory arises from a spousal conflict,” Sherman said.
Sherman added, “Earlier this year, Justice Clarence Thomas failed to recuse from a case, Trump v. Thompson, where he was the lone dissent from the court’s decision to reject former President Trump’s attempt to block the release of documents requested by the January 6 Committee … By deciding to hear this case, Justice Thomas has undermined public trust in the court’s impartiality.”
Democrats have said that they’ve been working on implementing an ethics code before the texts from Thomas’ wife were reported. Georgia Representative Hank Johnson said that he introduced the bill two years ago.
“The Supreme Court’s unwritten honor system is clearly broken,” Sherman said. “Public confidence in the third branch is at or near all-time lows, with 53 percent of Americans having an unfavorable view of the high court. For an institution whose currency is credibility, this is an abject failure.”
The House, this Wednesday, passed legislation that requires increased financial disclosure requirements for federal judges, including those of the Supreme Court.