WASHINGTON — Democrats in Congress are turning up the heat on Justice Clarence Thomas, with some calling for him to step back from cases involving Jan. 6, after his wife was found to have actively pressured the Trump White House to change the result of the 2020 election based on false claims of fraud.
At a closed-door meeting Tuesday, House Democrats raised questions about what they could do to hold Thomas accountable.
“It’s up to an individual justice to decide to recuse himself if his wife is participating in a coup,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi told them, according to a source in the room. She noted that under current law, the onus is on justices to hold themselves to account.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., are courting support for the Supreme Court Ethics Act, which would require the creation of a judicial ethics code. And senior lawmakers are publicly pushing Thomas to recuse himself from cases that involve the lobbying activities of his wife, Virginia Thomas, known as Ginni.
"I do think he should recuse himself," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters. "The information we know right now raises serious questions about how close Justice Thomas and his wife were to the planning and execution of the insurrection."
He added: "I think there should be some kind of code of ethics for Supreme Court justices."
Two dozen congressional Democrats, led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., sent a letter addressed to Thomas and Chief Justice John Roberts calling on Thomas to "promptly recuse himself from any future Supreme Court cases involving efforts to overturn the 2020 election or the January 6th attack on the Capitol."
The letter also calls on Roberts to "commit no later than April 28, 2022 to creating a binding Code of Conduct for the Supreme Court" that includes enforceable standards for recusal.
"Chief Justice Roberts has often spoken about the importance of the Supreme Court’s 'credibility and legitimacy as an institution.' That trust, already at all-time lows with the American public, must be earned," the lawmakers wrote in the letter.
And the House Jan. 6 select committee met Monday evening to discuss whether to call in Virginia Thomas for an interview about her role and knowledge of the attempt to steal the 2020 election on behalf of then-President Donald Trump, who lost.
Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., the chair of the select committee, said afterward that no decision had been made.
The flurry of new calls follows revelations of text messages Virginia Thomas sent to then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows pressuring him to keep Trump in office despite his defeat, and to convince the president to refuse to concede the 2020 election. Her messages, first reported by The Washington Post and CBS News, included a variety of false claims and conspiracy theories. Thomas also said she attended the "Stop The Steal" rally in Washington that preceded the violence at the Capitol.
Justice Thomas didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment sent to the Supreme Court’s press office on the calls for recusal. Roberts didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawmakers’ letter regarding ethics, also sent to the court’s press office.
NBC News has also reached out to Ginni Thomas for comment.
The pressure on Justice Thomas has been elevated by the fact that he was the lone dissenter in an 8 to 1 Supreme Court ruling rejecting a request by Trump and requiring the release of White House documents to the Jan. 6 committee. Thomas sided with Trump.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said Thomas should resign — or at least be investigated and potentially impeached. But most Democrats weren't ready to talk about impeachment, which would require a two-thirds majority for removal in the Senate, which is split evenly between the two parties.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said the Judiciary Committee he serves on should consider an investigation.
Republicans expressed little desire to join in the pressure campaign involving Thomas, who is seen by many as the most conservative justice on the Supreme Court and is a favorite of the GOP base.
One Senate Republican aide said the caucus has "zero" interest in going down that road.
No. 3 Republican Sen. John Barrasso, of Wyoming, brushed off the Democrats' calls for recusal when asked about them Tuesday.
"They're always looking for something," he said.
Would he support the legislation to set up a code of ethics for the Supreme Court? "I haven't read it," he said.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who voted to block the certification of some 2020 electors Jan. 6, dismissed the push as "just the latest attempt by the left to go after Justice Thomas."
Although Hawley said Thomas shouldn't be held responsible for texts sent by Virginia Thomas, he didn't rule out the prospect that the justice should step back from deciding cases in which the outcome directly affects his wife.
"Well, that'd be different, I mean, if it directly affected her," he said.