Justice Thomas Recuses Himself in Case of Indicted Former Law Clerk
WASHINGTON — Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas recused himself Monday for the first time in a case involving the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
The case is an appeal by former Trump administration legal advisor John Eastman, who was a law clerk for Thomas.
In previous Jan. 6 cases, Thomas was the only Supreme Court justice who showed favor toward Trump’s arguments when he said he was innocent in the attack on the Capitol.
His recusal comes at a time Thomas is under intense scrutiny for allegedly accepting gifts and other donations from wealthy businessmen who had business before the Supreme Court.
Some members of Congress are proposing legislation that would hold the justices more accountable when they fail to disclose conflicts of interest or do not recuse themselves when they have personal interests in cases.
Eastman has been criminally indicted for allegedly helping Trump to try to overturn the 2020 presidential election. He faces disbarment proceedings in California.
Eastman supported a legal argument that then-Vice President Mike Pence was authorized under constitutional law to refuse to certify election results that gave the win to Joe Biden.
Eastman’s own emails showing he knew Trump’s efforts violated the Electoral Count Act but helped him try to block the vote anyway led to the criminal charges against him. His emails also showed he thought Thomas was the Supreme Court justice most likely to support Trump.
Thomas did not explain his reasons for the recusal, which is typical among the justices.
Earlier, he faced criticism for not recusing himself in Jan. 6 cases after his wife, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, publicly endorsed Trump’s accusations that the election was stolen from him by ballot fraud.
Thomas announced the recusal on the first day of the Supreme Court’s new term as it faces tough issues of gun control, social media regulation and voting rights.
The gun control dispute centers on Zackey Rahimi, a Texas drug dealer who was charged with assaulting his girlfriend. He was convicted of violating a federal law that bans people with domestic violence restraining orders from possessing guns.
A federal appeals court overturned Rahimi’s conviction as it tried to apply a Supreme Court ruling from last year that expands rights to have a gun for home protection. Prosecutors argued on appeal to the Supreme Court that the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling misapplied the law.
The social media regulation case will decide how far First Amendment free speech rights can protect information posted on the internet.
States like Texas and Florida want to force social media companies to remove misinformation, hate speech and other offensive information posted by their users. Facebook, YouTube and TikTok argue that postings by other entities or persons are not entirely their responsibility and represent free speech.
If the states win, social media companies could face enormous legal liabilities.
A voting rights case asks the justices to consider a congressional redistricting in South Carolina that conservative lawmakers rewrote in a way that gives Republicans an advantage. Critics call it gerrymandering that weakens the power of Black voters.
A ruling against South Carolina would make it easier to challenge redistricting after each 10-year census.