On Tuesday, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called on Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to resign from the high court, in the wake of recent reporting that his wife, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, sent text messages to then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows urging him to act to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
The call comes as the 73-year-old justice faces a growing chorus of Democrats calling for him to recuse himself from cases related to the Jan. 6 insurrection.
“Clarence Thomas should resign,” Rep. Ocasio-Cortez wrote in a Twitter post Tuesday morning. “If not, his failure to disclose income from right-wing organizations, recuse himself from matters involving his wife, and his vote to block the Jan 6th commission from key information must be investigated and could serve as grounds for impeachment.”
Ocasio-Cortez joins a small list of Democrats calling for Thomas’ resignation or impeachment in recent days, including Reps. Veronica Escobar of Texas, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Hank Johnson of Georgia and fellow New York Democrat Nydia Velázquez.
According to The Associated Press, the House panel investigating the Jan. 6 riot will likely reach out to Virginia Thomas, though it’s unclear whether that will come in the form of a subpoena or a request to voluntarily speak to the panel.
“Based on the evidence we have in our possession, I feel very confident about inviting her to the committee,” Rep. Bennie Thompson, the panel’s chairman, said at a meeting of the committee Monday night. “And if she refuses, issuing a subpoena.”
Copies of the text messages between Virginia Thomas and Meadows were first obtained by The Washington Post and CBS News.
According to the messages obtained by those outlets, on Nov. 10, after a number of news organizations projected that Joe Biden won the election, Virginia Thomas wrote to Meadows: “Help This Great President stand firm, Mark!!!…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.”
The text messages do not mention her husband, nor do they mention the Supreme Court, but it has raised questions of a conflict of interest — with lawmakers, like Ocasio-Cortez, noting that Thomas was the lone dissenting vote objecting to the release of former President Donald Trump’s White House documents to the Jan. 6 panel.
Virginia Thomas also recently disclosed in an interview that she attended the “Stop the Steal” rally, which immediately preceded the Jan. 6 attack, but said she was not involved “with those who were planning and leading the Jan. 6 events”
Most Democratic lawmakers have not gone as far as their progressive counterparts, with a larger chorus calling for Thomas’ recusal from any cases related to the Jan. 6 attack or subsequent investigations into the insurrection.
Nearly two dozen House and Senate Democrats penned a letter to Thomas and Chief Justice John Roberts urging the 73-year-old justice to recuse himself from Jan. 6 cases and calling for “significant ethics reform” on the high court.
“Given the recent disclosures about Ms. Thomas’s efforts to overturn the election and her specific communications with White House officials about doing so, Justice Thomas’s participation in cases involving the 2020 election and the January 6th attack is exceedingly difficult to reconcile with federal ethics requirements,” the letter, led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., reads.
Notable signatories include Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla of California, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, as well as Reps. Karen Bass, D-Fla., Cori Bush, D-Mo., Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, Ted Lieu, D-Calif., Mondaire Jones, D-N.Y., and Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., as well as Reps. Escobar and Johnson.
“Chief Justice Roberts has often spoken about the importance of the Supreme Court’s ‘credibility and legitimacy as an institution,’” the group of 22 lawmakers wrote. “That trust, already at all-time lows with the American public, must be earned.”
At a press conference Tuesday, New York Democrat Rep. Hakeem Jeffries told reporters that he thinks “there is a reasonable argument to be made” that Justice Thomas should recuse himself from Jan. 6 cases, but added that he’ll “reserve comment beyond that.”
“It is deeply troubling that the wife of a Supreme Court justice appears to have been intimately involved in peddling ‘The Big Lie’, perhaps fanning the flames of the insurrection and being involved in issues that clearly fall before the jurisdiction of a member of the United States Supreme Court,” Jeffries told reporters Tuesday.
“It is my hope that it will be explored by the Judiciary Committee in terms of its areas of jurisdiction related to ethical conduct by Supreme Court justice, because no one is above the law,” he added.
Also Tuesday, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker said in an interview Tuesday that Justice Thomas should “recuse himself from future matters” related to the Jan. 6 attack, lamenting what he called “really lax” ethics rules and claiming the high court does a “poor job” policing itself.
“Most Americans do not realize how lax the ethics rules are, so a lot of individual justices have to define what their own lines are,” Booker told “The View” on Tuesday, adding that he believes Justice Thomas has “hurt the legitimacy of the court.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Tuesday that he thinks Thomas should recuse himself, and echoed calls for ethics reform on the high court: “I think there should be some kind of code of ethics for Supreme Court justices.”
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the No. 2 Senate Democrat who chairs the Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., have also called for Justice Thomas’ recusal.
According to Punchbowl News, at a private Democratic caucus meeting, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., that it’s ultimately Justice Thomas’ decision whether or not to recuse himself from Jan. 6 cases.
“It’s up to an individual justice to decide to recuse himself if his wife is participating in a coup,” Pelosi said, in response to a question from Ocasio-Cortez, according to Punchbowl News and Huffington Post.
President Biden said Monday that the question of Justice Thomas’ recusal should be up to “the Jan. 6 committee” and “the Justice Department,” adding: “That’s their judgment, not mine, to make.”
“Those things get into legal issues,” Biden continued. “I told you I would not tell the Justice Department what position to take or not take, and I’m not going to instruct the Congress either.”
Republicans have flatly rejected calls from Democrats, saying that Virginia Thomas is a private citizen and Justice Thomas should not be forced to answer for her opinions.
“I think Justice Thomas could make his decisions like he’s made them every other time,” House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said last week. “It’s his decision based upon law.”
Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley called it “kind of misogynistic” to suggest that Justice Thomas should resign based on his wife’s texts: “She’s an independent, adult woman, it just seems a little strange to me all of these calls for her husband to be what, like, minding her better? Frankly, I think it’s kind of misogynistic.”
“She’s a private individual,” Hawley said when asked by CNN about whether he finds the texts concerning. “He’s a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, but I think this idea that he is somehow automatically responsible for everything he says … what does that mean? Does she have to get his permission?”
“You want to strip constitutional rights from an individual because of who they’re married to?” Florida Rep. Kat Cammack told Politico. “That opens up the floodgates.”
“Congress must understand that a failure to hold Clarence Thomas accountable sends a loud, dangerous signal to the full Court – Kavanaugh, Barrett, & the rest – that his acts are fair game,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote in a subsequent Twitter post Tuesday, calling this moment a “tipping point” with the legitimacy of the Supreme Court on the line.
“Subpoenas, investigations, and impeachment should absolutely be on the table,” she wrote in a separate thread, in which she compared this situation to former President Trump’s first impeachment over withholding security assistance to Ukraine. “We shouldn’t have to think twice about that.”