From now on, every Supreme Court decision on which Justice Clarence Thomas is the deciding vote comes with a giant asterisk: This matter was decided by a man whose wife advocated for the overthrow of the government. Those aren’t the only Thomas votes that require the asterisk, though. Take the Supreme Court’s January rejection of Donald Trump’s attempt to block the Jan. 6 select committee from getting White House documents. Thomas was the only dissent on that.
Now we know that, during the same period as the White House documents Thomas would not have allowed to be sent to the select committee, his wife, Ginni Thomas, was furiously texting away with then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows about the need to overturn the election, sending him conspiracy theory videos and texts like, “Do not concede. It takes time for the army who is gathering for [Trump’s] back.”
In late 2021, Trump tried to assert executive privilege over hundreds of pages of documents relating to Jan. 6, even though he was no longer the executive. The actual executive, President Joe Biden, had declined to assert the privilege and hold back the documents. Trump lost in district court and appeals court and then at the Supreme Court, where Justices John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett all agreed that Trump could not block the national archivist from turning over the documents to the select committee.
Ginni Thomas’ texts came not in those documents, but in documents voluntarily turned over to the select committee by Meadows in the brief window before he stopped cooperating. So it’s not that Clarence Thomas knew—for sure, at least—that his wife would show up in the White House documents Trump was seeking directly to block. But, while the Thomases claim to keep his work as a Supreme Court justice and her work as a right-wing activist separate, they also describe themselves as “best friends” (interestingly, a term that shows up in one of Ginni’s texts to Meadows). It seems unlikely that she exchanged 29 texts with Mark Meadows and just never mentioned it to her best friend. Ginni also attended the Jan. 6 rally before the storming of the Capitol, and she has ties to some of the organizers of that event.
Even if Clarence didn’t oppose the rejection of Trump’s post-executive privilege claim because he thought there might be documents relating to his wife in those documents, he opposed it as the husband of someone who was, at that moment, cheering on Trump’s efforts to overturn the election, even offering (terrible) advice to Trump’s chief of staff about which lawyers’ efforts should be promoted. That’s a glaring conflict of interest, but it’s just one of many cases in which Thomas failed to recuse himself from matters in which his wife was at least tangentially involved. They are a walking ethics violation—or they would be if judicial ethics was something that applied to conservative members of the Supreme Court.
Clarence Thomas has said that Ginni works “24/7 every day in defense of liberty” and that they “are equally yoked, and we love being with each other because we love the same things.” Being “equally yoked” is a reference to the biblical injunction against being unequally yoked in a relationship with an unbeliever. An equally yoked team of oxen means they are pulling in the same direction with the same strength, getting the job done, whereas an unequally yoked team of oxen would be unable to do so. That’s an explicit statement that he sees her work—which includes sitting on the board of multiple far-right groups—as linked to and aligned with his own.
Husbands and wives have to be able to engage in separate work and separate lives to be independent of each other. But they also have to be able to acknowledge that sometimes their partners’ work has an effect on their own, and to do the ethical thing in stepping back in those moments. (I am married to a regular old lawyer. On at least one occasion he has asked his employer to screen him from a matter I have written about.) Clarence Thomas, by contrast, is not just refusing to recuse himself where his wife is involved, he is telling us that his work and his wife’s work are actively linked. That they share a project of remaking the nation’s laws, she from the outside and he from the inside. This is deeply corrupt, and not just where Jan. 6 is concerned.
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