Just over half of Americans believe Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas should step back from cases related to the 2020 presidential election following the publication of text messages that show his wife, Ginni Thomas, endorsing efforts to overturn Joe Biden’s win, according to polling published Wednesday by Quinnipiac University, which showed a sharp partisan divide on the issue.
Quinnipiac found that 79% of Democrats, 28% of Republicans and 53% of independents believe Thomas should recuse himself, mirroring attitudes in Congress, where Democratic lawmakers accuse the conservative justice of repeated ethics breaches while Republicans paint Ginni Thomas as the victim of an unfair media campaign.
The Supreme Court is increasingly unpopular: Pew Research Center found the court’s approval rating slipped from 69% in August 2019 to 54% this January, as a greater proportion of Democrats and the general public said the court was conservative and too powerful. Though an overwhelming majority of Republicans and Democrats agree justices shouldn’t let their political views affect their handling of cases, they disagree over which justices accomplish this. Some 45% of Republicans and 12% of Democrats thought justices nominated by Republican presidents did a good or excellent job of setting aside their politics, while 12% of Republicans and 44% of Democrats thought justices chosen by Democrats did a good or excellent job, Pew found.
Shortly after the 2020 election, Ginni Thomas sent then White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows a series of texts endorsing a scenario in which Biden supporters, including election officials and journalists, would be tried by a military tribunal for sedition, and urging Meadows not to concede the election. This January, Clarence Thomas participated in a case deciding whether to allow the transfer of roughly 800 pages of Trump Administration records to the House committee investigating the Capitol riot. The Supreme Court rejected Trump’s request that the records be held back, with Clarence Thomas the only publicly dissenting justice. When Ginni Thomas’s texts were made public in March, Clarence Thomas was urged by legal experts to recuse himself from future cases related to the election, while Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and some other Democratic legislators called on him to resign. Asked if he believed Clarence Thomas should recuse himself from cases related to the Capitol riot, Biden said he would leave the decision up to the Department of Justice and the January 6 committee.
Clarence Thomas has previously been accused of ethical lapses in connection to his wife. He accepted expensive gifts from financier Harlan Crowe, who also donated $500,000 to help Ginni Thomas establish a company that engaged in partisan political activity, and failed to include some data on his wife’s earnings on a financial disclosure, according to judicial reform advocacy group Fix the Court.