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House Democrats weigh stronger response to Justice Thomas conflict of interest accusations

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee plan to hold a closed-door meeting to discuss how they could address ethical concerns related to the justice and his activist wife.
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and Virginia Thomas arrive for the State Dinner at The White House on Sept. 20, 2019 .
Virginia “Ginni” Thomas and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas arrive for a State Dinner at the White House on Sept. 20, 2019.Paul Morigi / Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee plan to hold a closed-door meeting to discuss how they might further respond to conflict-of-interest accusations against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife, the conservative activist Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, three Democrats on the committee said.

The meeting had been planned for Thursday, but a committee spokesman said Tuesday evening it was being postponed, likely until after lawmakers return from a two-week congressional recess on April 26. The spokesman cited scheduling conflicts for the delay.

Some Democrats have already suggested drafting legislation to create a code of ethics for Supreme Court justices — which the court would likely see as not being up to constitutional muster. Others have floated the idea of launching investigations or holding hearings to generate public pressure on the justices to enact their own code.

“There will be a conversation on how to proceed. Some of us are eager to perform some kind of oversight,” one of the Democratic lawmakers said Tuesday. “We totally understand the separation-of-power issues. There are major limitations, obviously. But we can’t just sit on our hands.”

The lawmaker, who requested anonymity to discuss private committee deliberations, is one of a handful of progressives on the Judiciary Committee who have been pressing Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., to convene a meeting about the justice and his wife.

The Democrat called the meeting a “pretty specific response to many of us clamoring for some kind of action, or at least a conversation on a path forward.”

However, a Democratic spokesman for the Judiciary Committee characterized the planned private gathering as a regular meeting of members to discuss the panel's upcoming agenda.

The committee has jurisdiction over the administration of federal courts and judicial ethics.

Democrats cried foul after The Washington Post and CBS News reported last month that Ginni Thomas had texted then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows after the 2020 election, urging him to aggressively work to overturn Donald Trump’s loss to Joe Biden.

Around the same time, in the days after news outlets called the 2020 race for Biden, Ginni Thomas also emailed a group of conservative House members, NBC News reported, pressing them to “get in the streets” and be more aggressive in backing Trump’s efforts to overturn the election.

Democrats have called on Clarence Thomas to recuse himself from any additional cases relating to the House investigation into the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

This past January, the Supreme Court rejected Trump’s argument that executive privilege prevented the Jan. 6 committee from having access to a trove of records from his time in office. Thomas was the only justice who indicated that the court should grant Trump’s motion to block the National Archives from handing over the material.

Ginni Thomas has denied that her conservative activism, well known in Washington circles, represents any conflict of interest. In a recent interview with The Washington Free Beacon, she said she and her husband “share many of the same ideals, principles, and aspirations for America” but have “our own separate careers, and our own ideas and opinions too.”

“Clarence doesn’t discuss his work with me, and I don’t involve him in my work,” she said.

It’s unclear how exactly lawmakers could tighten conflict-of-interest rules in the courts.

Federal judges are already subject to an official Code of Conduct for United States Judges, which includes rules about ethics, integrity and even appearances of impropriety relating to outside business and political activities and the acceptance of gifts.

Supreme Court justices say they consult the code but that they are not bound by it or required to follow it. Congress has tried unsuccessfully to pass legislation to impose the code on them in the past.