- Ian Millhisersenior correspondent at Vox.
The January 6 committee investigating the deadly attack on the Capitol is reportedly deciding whether to interview Ginni Thomas — the Republican activist and wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas — about her efforts to overturn Donald Trump’s 2020 election loss. The move comes after a series of Thomas’s texts were made public in which she urges Donald Trump’s then-Chief of Staff Mark Meadows in the weeks following the election to take action to prevent a Biden victory. Justice Thomas is the only justice who dissented in the Supreme Court’s decision a few months ago that led to the release of White House documents around January 6. We speak with Ian Millhiser, senior correspondent at Vox, who calls Ginni Thomas “a cheerleader at the highest level” for the attempt to overturn the election. “When you’re a judge, you can’t sit on a case where your wife has an interest,” says Millhiser. “If Clarence Thomas knew that his wife was potentially implicated in this scandal, I think he should have recused himself from this case.” Millhiser’s latest piece is headlined “Clarence Thomas’s long fight against fair and democratic elections.”
AMY GOODMAN: The January 6th committee investigating the deadly attack on the Capitol is reportedly deciding whether to interview Ginni Thomas — the Republican activist who’s also the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas — about her efforts to overturn Donald Trump’s 2020 election loss. The move comes after her texts with Trump’s then-Chief of Staff Mark Meadows in the weeks following the election were made public last week in a Washington Post/CBS exposé. In a series of 29 text messages to Meadows, Ginni Thomas urges him to take action to prevent a Biden victory, citing conspiracy theories about a stolen election popularized by the far-right QAnon movement.
On November 10th, after news outlets declared Joe Biden the winner, Ginni Thomas wrote to Meadows, “Help This Great President stand firm, Mark!!!…You are the leader, with him, who is standing for America’s constitutional governance at the precipice. The majority knows Biden and the Left is attempting the greatest Heist of our History,” she texted.
Just months ago, in January, the Supreme Court denied a request by Trump to block the release of White House documents around January 6th. In the 8-to-1 ruling, only one justice dissented: Clarence Thomas, Gina’s husband. Calls are growing for Justice Thomas to be impeached, after the release of the text messages. This comes as Justice Thomas participated remotely Monday in arguments at the Supreme Court after he was hospitalized for nearly a week with an unspecified infection.
For more, we’re joined by Ian Millhiser, senior correspondent at Vox, who has long followed Justice Thomas. His new piece, out today, is headlined “Clarence Thomas’s long fight against fair and democratic elections: Like wife, like husband.” He is the author of two books on the high court: The Agenda: How a Republican Supreme Court Is Reshaping America and Injustices: The Supreme Court’s History of Comforting the Comfortable and Afflicting the Afflicted.
Ian, welcome back to Democracy Now! If you can talk about the significance of what has been discovered about Ginni Thomas’s texts, and the connection to her husband and the rules in the Supreme Court around partners ruling in cases that involve — that may possibly involve their spouses?
IAN MILLHISER: So, what we know at this point is we know that Ginni Thomas was very much a cheerleader, and a cheerleader at the highest levels. I mean, she was texting the White House chief of staff about, you know, cheering on Trump’s efforts to overturn the election. We don’t know yet if she was a co-conspirator. You know, was she in the room with people like John Eastman trying to plot the strategy to actually overturn the election? And the extent of her role could be revealed by various documents and various interviews that the January 6 committee is conducting.
You know, you mentioned in the intro that the committee sought records from the White House. Thomas — Justice Thomas — tried to block their access to these records. And, you know, we don’t yet know what’s in those records. We don’t know if they incriminate Ginni Thomas. We don’t know if they reveal her to be a co-conspirator. We don’t know if her name isn’t mentioned at all. So, if Clarence Thomas knew that his wife was potentially implicated in this scandal, I think he should have recused himself from that case, and he should recuse himself from any future cases related to this — related to this investigation, because, you know, when you’re a judge, you can’t sit on a case where your wife has an interest.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: What are the conflict of interest requirements for justices of the Supreme Court? And there has been an attempt in Congress to tighten that, but Chief Justice Roberts has warned against Congress attempting to control an equal branch of government, in effect?
IAN MILLHISER: Yeah. So, there’s really two questions there. I mean, there is a statute that lays out certain obligations. You know, a judge shouldn’t sit on a case where their impartiality can reasonably be questioned, and so on and so forth. The issue is that there’s no enforceable ethics rules against Supreme Court of the United States. So, there’s a statute which tells them what they’re supposed to do, and the justices have said for a really long time, “Oh, yeah, we are very, very careful about complying with ethics,” and so on and so forth, but, ultimately, it’s up to each individual justice. And, I mean, this is the overarching problem we’re having with the Supreme Court right now, is when this body gets out of line, when it gets overly partisan, when it starts ignoring the law, there really isn’t a good method to rein in a rogue Supreme Court. I mean, there’s impeachment, but impeachment takes 67 votes. We couldn’t even impeach — successfully impeach Donald Trump after Donald Trump cheered on an attack on the Capitol.
So I am pessimistic that anything is going to happen to Justice Thomas. But again, like, if his wife has an interest in a case, that is the classic case of where you need to recuse. You can’t sit on a case that you have an interest in, and you can’t sit on a case where your immediate family members have a direct interest.
AMY GOODMAN: And Justice Ian Millhiser — I mean, and, Ian, isn’t it —
IAN MILLHISER: I’ve been promoted! Great!
AMY GOODMAN: Isn’t it true that in this case where Clarence Thomas was the only dissenter — he did not want to obligate Donald Trump to send over these documents — that’s where the emails were discovered of his wife? So, I mean, there is a suggestion that he wanted to cover that up.
IAN MILLHISER: So, my understanding is that the text messages that we know about between Ginni Thomas and Mark Meadows came from a different tranche. I believe that actually Mark Meadows voluntarily turned them over to the committee. The documents that the committee sought from the Trump White House, they were in the National Archives. Trump sued to try to block them. And I don’t believe we know what’s in those documents yet. Now, I’m sure the January 6 committee will get around to telling us very soon.
But the question here is really: What did Clarence Thomas know, and when did he know it? When did Clarence Thomas know that his wife was potentially implicated in the January 6 attack? And if he knew that, then he obviously can’t sit on a case involving an investigation into the January 6th attack.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And could you talk in general about Justice Thomas’s record? His dissent in this case is not necessarily out of the ordinary for how he has dealt with cases in the past.
IAN MILLHISER: Yeah, no, that’s right. I mean, if I didn’t know about Ginni Thomas’s involvement, I still would’t be surprised by the vote that Clarence Thomas cast in that one case, because he’s consistently been a strong opponent of voting rights laws. He has — you know, the Roberts Court has been awful to the Voting Rights Act. He’s wanted to go much further. He is a supporter of a doctrine that would essentially allow state legislatures to ignore their state constitutions when passing election laws. He is a huge opponent of freedom of the press. He wants to overturn a case called New York Times v. Sullivan that protects reporters from malicious libel suits that seek to bankrupt their outlets. And he just doesn’t believe that the legislatures should have the authority to make laws. You know, he thinks that federal child labor laws are unconstitutional. He thinks that the ban on whites-only lunch counters is unconstitutional. He thinks that the minimum wage is unconstitutional. You know, this is simply a man who does not believe in democracy. And so I’m not at all surprised to learn that he is married to a woman who apparently also does not have a very strong attachment to democracy.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Ian Millhiser, the report that Ginni Thomas was at the January 6th protest, the significance of that, and also, in these texts, calling for the hiring of Sidney Powell, the conspiracy theorist lawyer, who even herself in court defended herself by saying, “No one should have believed what I said”?
IAN MILLHISER: Right, yeah. I mean, the fact that she was recommending potential legal counsel certainly suggests that she may have played a larger role. You know, again, we need to see more information. I want to know what’s in the new documents. I think that the committee should try to interview Ginni Thomas. You know, there are many people who attended the rally on the Capitol grass, which is lawful — you’re allowed to rally on the Capitol grass — and did not invade the Capitol. So we don’t yet know that she committed that particular crime. But again, what we need here is we need more information. We don’t know yet if Ginni Thomas has done anything criminal. We don’t even know whether she was involved in any of the planning. What we do know so far is that this wife of a Supreme Court justice was a cheerleader of this coup attempt.
AMY GOODMAN: Ian Millhiser, we want to thank you for being with us, senior correspondent at Vox. We will link to your coverage at democracynow.org.
Coming up, we’re going to look at a new Frontline/ProPublica documentary, Plot to Overturn the Election, with reporter A.C. Thompson. Stay with us.