Justice Clarence Thomas must recuse himself from January 6 cases

by Christina Baal-Owens
Executive Director, Public Wise

On January 6, 2021, the world watched as a violent mob attempted to overturn a free and fair election. Gallows on the National Mall. Confederate flags inside Congress. For many women, people of color, and the LGBTQIA+ community, January 6 was not a surprise. Insurrectionists stormed the Capitol with a specific vision in mind, a vision that has persisted in our society since before the Civil War, of a world where a select white and wealthy group reign unchecked while women, people of color, and everyone other than white men are voiceless and powerless. It’s a vision we must vanquish once and for all. 

We can’t do that until we hold the people and institutions behind January 6 accountable. We must destroy the infrastructure that is keeping this ideology alive. The Jeffersonian yeoman farmer fantasy that forms the alt-right’s vision is a figment of the past. The only reason it has legs is because it is protected by enablers at the highest levels of our political system. Enablers like Virginia Thomas. 

A far-right activist and wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Ginni Thomas not only attended the rally on January 6, but texted White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows 29 times to find a way to overturn the election. Ginni Thomas is not just an insurrectionist; she is an architect of the attempted coup. Clarence Thomas has recused himself 54 times over the past 30 years to avoid conflicts of interest, but refused to recuse himself from the January 6 case to allow access to President Trump’s records. Instead, he authored the case’s sole dissent. 

Ginni Thomas’s treasonous activism around the 2020 election constituted an attempt to overturn the will of  American voters. Her husband’s refusal to recuse himself from cases where his work overlaps with his wife is a violation of the trust Americans place in their institutions of government. The Thomases want us to believe that their behavior is not only justifiable, but patriotic, when in truth it is the aiding and abetting of the white supremacist movement. It is complicity, plain and simple. 

The Thomases are the perfect political power couple for the white supremacist movement not in spite of, but because of, their identities. Ginni is a woman and her husband is the second African American to serve on the US Supreme Court in American history. These are characteristics that would normally indicate support for liberal causes, not alt-right extremism. This cognitive dissonance provides the white supremacist movement with cover—liberals can’t cry racism or misogyny if a woman and her Black husband are the faces of the fight. In exchange, the Thomases get power. That power protects them from the harms enacted against women, minorities, and other vulnerable populations in the U.S. 

Throughout history, white women have played a key role in supporting white supremacy. Though never allowed as much sway as men, whiteness has insulated them from some of the worst forms of oppression. Rather than recognizing the precarity of their position and uniting with other oppressed people against white patriarchy, many white women have sought to enshrine their position in the regime by propping it up. Ginni Thomas is no exception. Neither are the 53% of white women who voted for President Donald Trump in 2020, or the 57% of white women who backed Glenn Youngkin in Virginia. 

I have spent every day following 1/6 demanding accountability for those who sought to violently overturn an election through my work as Executive Director of Public Wise. We recently added Ginni Thomas to the Insurrection Index, a public database documenting all people in positions of public trust who participated in the insurrection.

But that is not enough. Our leaders are content to allow January 6th to fade from history and let a majority of insurrectionists, including their leaders, escape accountability. Insurrectionists are everywhere. They live in red, blue and purple states, are our elected leaders, and are running for our school boards, our city councils, and our Congress. January 6th was just the beginning of a movement, and we are seeing it now with Florida’s Don’t Say Gay Bill, the abortion bans across the country and the constant attacks on transgender Americans. I am calling on Justice Clarence Thomas to recuse himself from any and all January 6 cases that come before the court. The standard for Supreme Court justices is to recuse even when there is an appearance or a conflict of interest. The idea that Thomas would rule on a case that could directly affect his wife is ludicrous and deeply detrimental to public trust in government. Justice Thomas must recuse himself.