Democrats have stepped up calls for judges to be removed in response to the annulment of Roe v. Wade.
Judge Clarence Thomas was previously faced with impeachment calls in connection with January 6.
Senators have questioned whether Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch lied about their positions.
The many controversies and polarizing opinions that have emerged from the Supreme Court in recent months have called for an event unprecedented in more than two centuries of American history: the impeachment of a sitting judge.
Even before Friday’s decision to abolish the constitutional right to abortion, Democrats, including Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, had expressed support for the impeachment of Justice Clarence Thomas, the longest-serving Supreme Court member. At the time, demands for his removal focused on the disclosure of more than two dozen text messages Thomas’ wife, Ginni Thomas, had exchanged with former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows while trying to help former President Donald Trump. to overthrow the 2020 elections.
And those calls intensified after Thomas, along with other justices in the conservative Supreme Court bloc, overturned Roe v. Wade, the nearly 50-year-old decision that established a constitutional right to abortion. Other judges are now facing similar impeachment calls amid questions about whether they misled the Senate during their confirmation proceedings about their views on Roe.
“I believe lying under oath is a criminal offense,” Ocasio-Cortez said during a recent interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, referring to Trump-appointed judges Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.
Indeed, eyebrows rose on both sides of the aisle after the Kavanaugh and Gorsuch joined the reversing Roe. sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican who supported Gorsuch and Kavanaugh’s affirmations, said the decision contradicted what the two judges said “in their testimony and their meetings with me, where they both insisted on the importance of supporting long-standing precedents on which the country has relied.”
sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, said he “trusted Judge Gorsuch and Judge Kavanaugh when they testified under oath that they also believed Roe v Wade set a legal precedent, and I am alarmed that they have chosen to reject the stability the ruling has provided for two generations of Americans.”
In his controversial unanimity in the abortion case, Thomas argued that the Court should: also “reconsider” rulings establishing rights to same-sex marriage, access to contraception and gay sex.
Amid nationwide protests and concerns over the possible rollback of those rights, a petition calling for Thomas’s impeachment continued to gain support. The petition, organized in March by the advocacy group Continuehad received more than 300,000 signatures.
How to impeach a Supreme Court judge?
The process of removing a Supreme Court judge is identical to the more passable procedure for removing a sitting president.
First, the House must draft articles of impeachment. The House then only needs a majority, however small, to impeach a Supreme Court justice or other federal judge. But a two-thirds majority in the Senate is required for a conviction.
Given the current political climate – Democrats have the thinnest possible majority, with a Senate 50-50 – it is almost certain that Thomas would not be removed from his lifelong nomination. Republicans enjoy a significant ideological majority in the Supreme Court, with six of the nine justices.
What would be a reason to accuse Thomas?
Given Ginni Thomas’s writings, some Democrats have noted that in January Clarence Thomas stood out as the only judge to disagree when the Supreme Court rejected Trump’s offer to release some presidential data to the House committee that overturned the attempt to peaceful transfer of power.
Thomas had previously dissented in February 2021 when the Supreme Court dismissed the election challenges presented by Trump and his political allies. Thomas described the decision not to hear the cases as “baffling” and “inexplicable”, contradicting that the Supreme Court should have used the opportunity to guide states through elections.
Some Democrats in 2019 had screamed for the impeachment by Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, but there has never been a serious impeachment attempt in Congress.
Federal Court Charges Are Rare
Federal judges, including those on the Supreme Court, are appointed for life — their terms of office usually end upon retirement or death.
As a 2018 Brennan Center for Justice study noted, the impeachment of federal judges is “rare and removal is even rarer.” The study found that since 1803, the House had impeached only 15 judges — an average of one every 14 years — and only eight of those proceedings resulted in Senate convictions.
The history of the impeachment of a Supreme Court justice requires going back more than 200 years in American history.
In 1804, Judge Samuel Chase went down in history as the first—and thus far only—sitting Supreme Court member to be impeached when the House charged him with refusing to fire biased jurors and excluding or limiting witnesses to the defense. in a couple of politically sensitive processes.
An official Senate website describes Chase as a “fervent Federalist with a volcanic personality” who “showed no willingness to water down his bitter partisan rhetoric after Jefferson’s Republicans took control of Congress in 1801.” Then-President Thomas Jefferson supported the impeachment attempt.
But in 1805, Chase survived impeachment after his legal team — which included “some of the nation’s foremost lawyers” — convinced enough senators that the justice’s conduct did not warrant removal from the Supreme Court, according to the Senate website. Chase continued to serve on the Supreme Court and died in 1811.
In 2010, the Senate voted to sentence Thomas Porteous, then a federal judge in New Orleans, after the House impeached him on charges of bribery and making false statements. Other judges have resigned in light of the threat of impeachment and removal from their lifetime appointments.
A text message brouhaha
Ginni Thomas’s text messages were among more than 2,000 Meadows turned over to the House special committee investigating the January 6, 2021 Capitol attack. The reports show how eagerly Thomas promoted and pushed to steer Trump’s strategy to reverse his election defeat in 2020.
In some posts, Thomas lifted up conservative attorney Sidney Powell, who has since faced sanctions for her role in advancing Trump’s baseless allegations of voter fraud.
“It sounds like Sidney and her team are being inundated with evidence of fraud. Make a plan. Release the Kraken and save us from the left that is bringing America down,” Thomas wrote in a November 2020 text to Meadows.
“Suggestion: you need to boost your team from the inside, Mark,” Thomas wrote in another post. “The lower-level insiders are scared, anxious or sending signals of hopelessness versus an awareness of the existential threat to America right now. You can stop them, strengthen their spirits.”
It’s unclear whether the 29 messages — 21 sent by Thomas, eight by Meadows — reflected the magnitude of their communication.
Judge Thomas faced calls for his retirement or resignation even before his wife’s text messages with Meadows became public, such as The New Yorker† The New York Timesand other media spotlighted his wife’s political activism.
But the text correspondence brought new thrust to the pressure on Thomas to resign from the Supreme Court.
In March, Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Democrat from Minnesota, in a: Twitter post that “Clarence Thomas should be deposed.”
Ocasio-Cortez threatened Thomas with impeachment if he refused to resign.
Clarence Thomas must resign, New York Democrat wrote Twitter† If not, his inability to disclose earnings from right-wing organizations, abstain from cases involving his wife, and his vote to block the Jan. 6 commission from vital information should be investigated and may be serve as grounds for impeachment.”
Meanwhile, other lawmakers have called on Judge Thomas to withdraw from cases related to Jan. 6.
Senator Dick Durbin, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the SMS correspondence “raises a serious question about conflicts of interest for Judge Thomas.”
“To think he would consider a case where his wife regularly contacts the president’s chief of staff and advises on matters that will eventually be litigated by the court,” Durbin said. told reporters on Capitol Hill. “In the interest of the court, I think he should withdraw from those cases.”
sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, called on Thomas to withdraw from cases related to the Capitol riot investigation and the 2024 election because his “Supreme Court conduct looks increasingly corrupt.”
However, President Joe Biden has turned down to urge Judge Thomas to abstain from such cases.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said it will be up to Thomas to decide whether to withdraw from cases related to the investigation until Jan. 6, 2021.
In an interview with The Washington Free BeaconGinni Thomas said, “Clarence doesn’t discuss his work with me, and I don’t involve him in my work.”
But in a speech in 2011, Clarence Thomas seemed to link his Supreme Court service to his wife’s political advocacy.
“We love being together because we love the same things. We believe in the same things… We’re focused on defending freedom. So I admire her and I love her because it keeps me going said Thomas.
An earlier version of this story appeared on Friday, March 25, 2022.
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