House Democrats are outraged that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ wife pressed top White House officials to overturn the 2020 election. Yet they’re not ready to talk about the most tangible step they can take: impeachment.
Multiple Democrats said Monday night that Ginni Thomas’ conspiracy-laden post-election text barrage to then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows — and potentially others in the West Wing — warrants serious alarm about Thomas’ involvement in cases related to the 2020 ballot. Several insisted Thomas should resign or recuse himself from anything to do with the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and other litigation that may reach the high court in the coming months.
“He absolutely should recuse himself,” said Progressive Caucus Chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), adding that it was “outrageous” and “stunning” that he hadn’t yet done so. “Clearly the Supreme Court is in need of ethics reforms.”
“I frankly think it’s time for Justice Thomas to resign,” added Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), who, like Jayapal, sits on the House Judiciary panel, which oversees Congress’s impeachment powers.
But despite fervent calls for impeachment from the left, most Democratic lawmakers say they’re not yet prepared to consider that option — the only one with teeth that's in their purview. Instead, Democrats said they want more details about exactly what happened before settling on a potential punishment or remedy.
“I’m very concerned about it, obviously,” House Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) said. When asked about his colleagues’ calls to censure or even impeach, he said: “It’s much too early to talk about either one of those. I think we have to wait and see what the Jan. 6 committee finds.”
At least one House Democrat has so far called for Thomas’ impeachment: Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar. Another progressive, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), cracked open the door to impeaching Thomas: “What we know, if investigated further, could absolutely be grounds for potential impeachment.”
Several Democrats, including Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.), called on him to step down, while another, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), said Thomas “should be censured for having voted in cases related to the election.”
But the consensus among most Democrats when they returned to Washington Monday night was to largely defer to their investigators already probing the Jan. 6 insurrection, while urging Thomas to recuse himself of related cases on his own accord. The committee has obtained dozens of text messages from Ginni Thomas to Meadows, urging him to continue the fight to overturn the 2020 election and offering strategic advice. The select committee is considering whether to call Ginni Thomas as a witness and appeared to be leaning closer to doing so on Monday evening.
“I’ve always thought he should recuse himself,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters in the Capitol on Monday.
Other Democrats say there’s much more for the select panel to do before the House should take action on its own.
“To see something like this, it’s pretty damn outrageous,” said Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.), an early advocate for the first impeachment of former President Donald Trump. “I don’t think it reaches to that level of impeachment yet.”
There’s no indication that Clarence Thomas was aware of his wife’s contacts with Trump’s West Wing or was influenced by them in his decision making. Still, the evidence of her voluminous outreach has raised new questions about the justice’s involvement in cases related to the 2020 election and the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Thomas was already under fierce scrutiny on the issue: He cast the lone dissenting vote in January when the high court agreed to give the Jan. 6 select committee access to Trump’s White House records. He also joined Justice Samuel Alito in December 2020 as the only justices who said they would have considered a challenge some GOP-led states brought against election procedures in states won by Joe Biden.
“It’s very disturbing to me that those texts are being written by the spouse of one of the justices of the Supreme Court,” said Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), noting Thomas’ sole no vote on the case seeking Trump’s records. “I think there are a lot of questions that need to be answered by Justice Thomas and Mrs. Thomas.”
The panel might decide to call Ginni Thomas as a witness, a politically fraught choice as its members prepare to enter the investigation’s public phase as soon as this spring. But even that would not guarantee answers, as she could refuse to testify. The panel is currently fighting more than 20 lawsuits to block its subpoenas for phone records or testimony, and the litigation is ongoing.
Panel members met Monday evening to decide their path forward on Thomas.
“Based on the evidence we have in our possession, I feel very confident about inviting her to the committee,” select panel chair Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said. “And if she refuses, issuing a subpoena.”
The debate will likely intensify as Jan. 6-related litigation and prosecutions wind through the courts. Hundreds of defendants who breached the Capitol are facing criminal proceedings, and some issues connected to those cases are on appeal. Other litigation and grand jury proceedings connected to Trump’s 2020 election efforts have continued in federal and local courts.
For now, Democrats seemed content to wait for much of that to play out before formally urging their party’s leaders to take action against Thomas on the floor.
“I'm in the mode of reviewing what the facts are and to make assessments as to what our next steps should be,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), another Judiciary panel member, when asked about impeachment. “Certainly there should be accountability.”
Republicans in both chambers, meanwhile, have fully dismissed the Democrats’ complaints.
“This stuff is crazy. Mrs. Thomas is allowed to have her opinions,” said Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.). “She’s been in the conservative movement for a long time.”
And Rep. Kat Cammack (R-Fla.) warned broadly of blowback from probing a justice’s spouse too intently: “You want to strip constitutional rights from an individual because of who they’re married to?” she asked. “That opens up the floodgates.”
Olivia Beavers and Nancy Vu contributed to this report.