Justice Clarence Thomas needs to go

OPINION: It was recently revealed that former President Trump’s lawyers viewed the justice as key to helping overturn the election — further proof that Thomas needs to recuse himself from any 2020 election cases or face impeachment.

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is in the news again, and not in a good way — unless you are down for insurrection plots, corruption and conflicts of interest. And what we are hearing about the justice is more proof that it is time for him to leave the bench and take some of his colleagues with him.

The latest report from the Washington Post — that Trump lawyers viewed Thomas as the key to overturning the 2020 presidential election — is a warning that the scheme to overthrow the government and install Trump as dictator was far more extensive than we realized. And while we need more information, we do know that two people named Thomas — Clarence and his wife, Ginni — were front and center in that plot.  

According to an email from Trump lawyer Kenneth Chesebro to other Trump lawyers, including John Eastman — also a former Thomas clerk — Chesebro believed Thomas would “end up being key” to having the court overturn Joe Biden’s victory in contested states such as Georgia. Chesebro argued the legal team should “frame things so that Thomas could be the one to issue some sort of stay or other circuit justice opinion saying Georgia is in legitimate doubt.” The group believed Thomas — the justice in charge of emergency petitions for the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Georgia — could “hold up the Georgia count in Congress.”

This comes after Thomas claimed “I’ve heard the word diversity quite a few times, and I don’t have a clue what it means” during oral arguments last week on the future of affirmative action in college admissions. Thomas — who filled the seat occupied by the late civil rights giant Thurgood Marshall — is the beneficiary of a move by cynical white conservatives to confirm a Black jurist with a hatred for civil rights. Although he has benefited from affirmative action, the man compared affirmative action to slavery and said the program had stigmatized and disadvantaged him in his legal career. Not satisfied with prohibiting abortion and hoping to abolish a whole host of freedoms such as contraception and LGBTQ+ rights, Clarence Thomas has desecrated the memory and legacy of Marshall since he joined the Supreme Court in 1991, a waste of a Supreme Court seat on a man who does not believe in justice.

And while Justice Thomas’ decisions and views are an outrage to lovers of justice and civil rights, his conduct on the court should raise red flags. As Trump lawyers, including a former Thomas law clerk, conspired to overturn the 2020 election with Thomas’ help, Ginni Thomas lobbied Wisconsin and Arizona lawmakers to ignore the results of the election and install Trump with a “clean slate” of electors. And she sent text messages to Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows urging him to pursue overturning the election results. Given this glaring conflict of interest — with his wife playing the role of an insurrectionist — Justice Thomas was the only justice to vote against releasing Trump’s records to the Jan. 6 committee.  

But it doesn’t end there. Not only has Thomas failed to recuse himself in matters involving his wife, but he also failed to disclose under federal law that Ginni received $680,000 from the Heritage Foundation between 2003 and 2007. He amended his federal financial disclosures in 2011 only after Common Cause reported that Thomas had omitted that information. The reality is Ginni works with many organizations with business before the court, and that’s a problem. But Justice Thomas believes he is above the law, and he is — with a corrupt Supreme Court owned by right-wing billionaire donors and the Republican Party, and no accountability for Supreme Court justices.

That Justice Clarence Thomas still has his job on the high court — despite voting on cases involving his insurrectionist wife, and Trump’s lawyers viewing him as the key to overturning the election — is only the tip of the iceberg. The conservative movement has captured and taken control of the Supreme Court, after funneling hundreds of millions of dollars in “dark money” to install right-wing judges such as Thomas and push an anti-voting rights, anti-working people, anti-reproductive justice, anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-environment agenda they could not pass in Congress.

The question is, what can be done about Clarence Thomas? A MoveOn petition to impeach the justice has gained nearly 1.3 million signatures. Thomas should be impeached, and there is a precedent for it. But is it realistic, and more importantly, will the people demand it?

Democrats have proposed legislation to reform the court and address the harm created by Thomas and the extremist majority on the Supreme Court. House Democrats introduced a bill requiring term limits for justices, a move to “restore legitimacy and independence to the nation’s highest court.” The legislation would allow a president to nominate justices every two years and force justices to retire after 18 years and assume senior status. Thomas has been on the court for 31 years. Other proposals for court reform include increasing the number of justices and enacting a Supreme Court code of ethics to deal with misconduct, which already applies to other federal judges.

We knew Clarence Thomas was problematic from the start when Anita Hill enlightened us about his behavior when she made sexual harassment allegations during his Senate confirmation hearing over three decades ago. Despite portraying himself as the victim of a “high-tech lynching,” Thomas was protected then — by white men — and he is being protected now. The man who made it to the top — with help from affirmative action — is using the law to kick down the ladder and leave the rest of us stranded. Nevertheless, with all the damage he has done to democracy and to civil rights, now is the time for him to find the exit.

David A. Love is a journalist and commentator who writes investigative stories and op-eds on a variety of issues, including politics, social justice, human rights, race, criminal justice and inequality. Love is also an instructor at the Rutgers School of Communication and Information, where he trains students in a social justice journalism lab. In addition to his journalism career, Love has worked as an advocate and leader in the nonprofit sector, served as a legislative aide, and as a law clerk to two federal judges. He holds a B.A. in East Asian Studies from Harvard University and a J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. He also completed the Joint Programme in International Human Rights Law at the University of Oxford. His portfolio website is davidalove.com.

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