Global lens

Trouble at the supreme court: the case of the judge’s wife

Leaked Ginni Thomas messages show how unmoored from reality the US Right has become

“I’m still aghast. Still astonished,” said Frank Bruni in The New York Times. Days after reading the bizarre text exchanges between Ginni Thomas, the wife of supreme court justice Clarence Thomas, and Mark Meadows, President Donald Trump’s chief of staff, I’m still reeling. The 29 messages – among 2,320 that Meadows provided to the House select committee investigating the 6 January assault on the Capitol – were sent after Trump lost the 2020 election; and they show just how unmoored from reality the US Right has become.

“Help This Great President stand firm, Mark!!!,” writes Thomas, warning that Trump must prevent “the Left” from carrying out “the greatest Heist of our History”. America, she says, is witnessing “the end of Liberty”. You expect this stuff from conspiracy theorists, but Thomas is no fringe figure; she’s the wife of the longest-serving member of America’s highest court, and a well-known lobbyist for conservative causes.

Trump’s “flimsy” allegations of election fraud never made it as far as the supreme court, said the Los Angeles Times, so we’ll never know how Justice Thomas would have dealt with them. But we do know that he was the lone voice of dissent when the court rejected Trump’s bid to block the release of White House records regarding the 6 January riot. Given his wife’s views, he clearly has a conflict of interest and should recuse himself from any cases relating to the 2020 election or to 6 January.

Poppycock, said Rich Lowry on Politico. The law requires judges to recuse themselves when they or their spouse have “an interest that could be substantially affected by the outcome of the proceedings”. That’s not the case here. Ginni Thomas isn’t party to any election-related litigation. She’s a private citizen who was giving advice to an official who may or may not have heeded it. Since when did we hold judges to account for the political views of their spouses?

If spouses’ views were grounds for recusal, the nine-member court would rarely be able to convene in full strength, said The Wall Street Journal. That “may be precisely the result” that Democrats – nervous of future supreme court rulings on issues such as abortion and gun rights – want to achieve. “The Jan. 6 committee had no cause to leak Ginni Thomas’s texts other than to embarrass her”, and to damage her husband. Justice Thomas has “every right and reason” to ignore the ensuing fuss.

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